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

Saturday, April 17, 2010

50. How to Train Your Dragon

Cinedome 7 Newark

Similar to how Piedmont is encircled by Oakland, the city of Newark is almost entirely surrounded by Fremont, but for a small outlet to the bay.  According to the city's official site, Newark incorporated when the other five towns that would later form Fremont tried to pressure Newark into becoming Fremont's industrial zone.  To my knowledge, the city has only ever had one theater, the Cinedome 7, built in 1983 or later.

According to Cinema Treasures, Syufy Enterprises built a Cinedome 7 in Fremont (just across the freeway from Newark's Cinedome 7), and found it so lucrative that they just had to have another.  How close are these two theaters?  Close.

Fremont's Cinedome was eventually expanded to eight screens, putting a total of fifteen screens between the two theaters, less than half a mile apart.  Fremont's theater, later known as the Cinedome East (to Newark's Cinedome West), closed in March of last year.  The future of Cinedome West also seems in doubt, with owner Cinemark planning to build a twenty-screen theater across the street in Newpark Mall.  (Though according to one poster on Cinema Treasures, this theater has been in the pipe for a long time, and is perhaps in no hurry to materialize.)

Newark's theater is identified as the Cinedome West by a sign facing the freeway, but the front of the building names it as the Cinedome 7.  The entrance comprises several fractalized Arabian arches (I'm inventing architecture just by blogging!).  With the enormous Century 25 Union Landing drawing in people from much of the east bay, including Newark, you can expect to find plenty of parking at this theater.

I received a few curious/suspicious looks from a manager type when I was snapping my photographs, but otherwise I found the staff at this theater to be above-average friendly.  Chatty even.  And a good thing they're friendly, because there was an army of them on my visit on this not-very-crowded Saturday afternoon.

I found a real treat among the gift cards and MPAA brochures: the Cinemark Theatres Nutritional Information hand-out.  I don't see this information listed on their website, and this is the first I've seen of the hard copy, so get ready for some delicious statistics.  If you're a calorie counter, you might favor the Tazo Tea (0 calories), Espresso Solo (5 calories), or a single Lindor Milk Ball (70 calories; not sure what that is exactly).  You'll want to shy away from the peanut butter cookie (390 calories), 7" cheese pizza (540 calories), or the heart-throttling Super Nachos (1280 calories; and you gained three pounds just by reading this sentence).  A half cup of Dreyer's classic french vanilla ice-cream weighs in at a curious 150% (sic).  150% of what?  You might not be surprised to learn that peanut M&Ms have more protein than a hotdog, but did you know that the 20 ounce white chocolate mocha has 19 grams of protein?  As a vegan I need to eat eighty-five raw soybeans and a bale of hay to get that much protein; you're telling me I could just be drinking coffee to bulk up?

The lobby retains some nice 80's glitz.  It has funky chandeliers, staircases to nowhere, and a nice wall of framed and unframed posters of coming attractions.

The theater has four domed and three rectangular auditoriums, seating a total of 1952.  Vincent G. Raney designed not only this theater but the domed theaters in San Jose, the CinéArts @ Pleasant Hill, and the Cinedome 8 Napa.  So similar is the auditorium pictured below to the one in Napa that I was able to take the picture with the camera resting on the same banister.

The domed auditoriums hold the most people (topping out at 369), whereas the smaller, rectangular rooms seat between 122 and 229.  In my auditorium, the seats were a bit ratty, but comfortable, and at a very slight angle to the screen, facing the viewer directly toward the screen's middle.  The floors were terribly sticky.


When I first saw the trailer for Beverly Hills Chihuahua a few years ago, I got dumber.  The same goes for Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore.  I don't recall a time in my youth when I clamored to see animals on the big screen, talking or not.  Remember Benji, Milo, Otis, Hooch, and Babe?  My favorite animal in a movie is probably the eponymous Shaggy Dog, but I'm warming up to Underdog after a wonderful cameo appearance in a spoof of the 300 trailer.  But Cats & Dogs?  I'd be curious to know which kids end up liking this movie, and why.

I'd give your right arm to see Cirque du Soleil.  A spot for their Mystère show in Vegas is proof that when acrobats whiz through the air in bright colored spandex, the world gets a little bit better.

A trailer for the upcoming Oceans had me pitying the poor school of fish.  Is it not enough to be dive bombed by seagulls from above and attacked by dolphins from below, but a shark has to come to the party as well?  There might be many things that would make me uneasy walking around at night, but I'm seldom struck by the fear that at any moment seagulls, dolphins, and sharks might jump from the shadows and eat me.

Again National CineMedia has changed its tune, now claiming "the movies are more popular than ever, with record breaking crowds".  Finally, a statement that might actually be true.  Let's ignore 'popular', since that is a flimsy word.  But 'record breaking crowds' could mean that more people showed up on opening day.  With new releases showing on more simultaneous screens than ever before, and in a country with an increasing population, I can believe that the size of our crowd is record breaking (in fact, I would expect that each year's opening day draw would triumph over the record from the previous year).

A Walmart ad has a dragon (from How to Train Your Dragon) flying through the aisles.  The ultimate offense a movie can make is to have an ad for the soundtrack (showing clips from the movie) right before the movie starts.  Although a trailer might have put me in my seat, once I've bought my ticket I want to go in with as little knowledge as possible.  This Walmart ad is slight, but still it revealed to me a type of dragon that I don't recall having seen previously.


Shrek Forever After (Trailer 2)

Shrek makes a deal with Rumpelstiltskin to have a day free of worries and responsibilities, to be a "real ogre again".  The catch seems to be that if Shrek doesn't win over this alternate reality's version of Fiona, and get her to kiss him by sundown, then he'll be stuck in this world forever.  This is a better trailer than the first, but I have the same objections.  The highlights will most likely come from the troop of ogres at Fiona's command.  84 cuts.

Marmaduke (Trailer 2)

The less said the better.  And I mean the less the dog says, the better.  This trailer is worth watching, though, because at the very end all the dogs perform a dance number together, making one of the most honest statements I've seen a trailer make: this film will be stupid.  93 cuts.

Despicable Me (Trailer 4)

This movie continues on its rampage of turning out clever and entertaining trailers.  This is the first to reveal that the plot will center around our lovable villain trying to steal the moon, while having to look after three intrusive girls (nieces?).  Freeze rays, rocket ships, shrink rays, sharks in the sewer, blasto-rays (made that one up), and oodles of minions.  This movie is going to be great.  100 cuts.

The Karate Kid (Trailer 2)

(Previously reviewed)
I was actually getting goosebumps during the training sequences of this trailer.  Tiny Jaden Smith is going to kick some!

Furry Vengeance

( Over the Hedge + Evan Almighty - digital animation - wit - fun ) * animal poop^2 = Furry Vengeance. Brendan Fraser?  I can understand.  Brooke Shields?  No surprise.  But I saw a few actual trees in this trailer (not stunt trees), and they should have uprooted and thrown themselves on the woodchipper rather than appear in this movie.  112 cuts.

The Last Airbender (Trailer 2)
(not rated)
(Previously not reviewed)


Will Ferrell is an alien invader with suave.  He has a big blue head, a fish in a robot suit for a sidekick, and somewhere in there we can expect to hear Tina Fey, Jonah Hill, and Brad Pitt.  Megamind's look is a bit familiar, since Monsters vs. Aliens, and there's too much Jim Carrey in his facial contortions, but otherwise I'm looking forward to this.  20 cuts.

How to Train Your Dragon

Dreamworks Animation (officially formed in 2004, but with a few notable titles to its name before that) has produced one great movie: Antz.  Everything else has spanned the spectrum between really good (Kung Fu Panda), amusing (Over the Hedge), and not good at all (Shark Tale). Contrasting Dreamworks to the industry standard, Pixar, I find that out of sixty digitally animated films, I've awarded Pixar an average ranking of 16.5 (with four titles in my top ten), versus Dreamworks's average ranking of 25 (only Antz breaks into the top ten).  Whereas Pixar movies always look amazing (even the otherwise boring Cars looked good), Dreamworks movies are hit and miss (Bee Movie looks good, Madagascar does not).  Both studios have ventured beyond fuzzy animals into the depiction of human beings.  In their earlier movies, the people are uninteresting and move stiffly (Toy Story, Monsters, Inc. from Pixar, Shrek, Madagascar from Dreamworks).  More recently, though, Pixar has delivered some wonderful caricatures; rather than trying to exactly mimic what people do look like, they have fallen back to the entertaining strategy of traditional cell animation by depicting what we could look like (The Incredibles, Ratouille, and Up).  Dreamworks has been lagging; the humans in Bee Movie are their best work, but their more recent Monsters vs. Aliens and Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa suggests they can't necessarily re-create the magic.  Then along comes How to Train Your Dragon.

The Viking inhabitants of a small island must contend with the usual adversities of any northern people: harsh winters, food shortages, and finding a mate who isn't also a cousin.  But there is one other hardship peculiar to this island: frequent raids by dragons.  We meet Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) during one such raid.  As Stoick (Gerard Butler), the lead Viking warrior, rallies the troops, and as heartthrob Astrid (America Ferrera) puts out fires, Hiccup is relegated to the blacksmith shop with Gobber (Craig Ferguson) to mend bent swords and get them back into the fray, as if they were wounded soldiers being shunted to the front lines.  Hiccup is scrawny and clumsy, but also brainy, a dangerous combination in the eyes of his fellow Vikings, who do their best to minimize Hiccup's involvement in the battle.  Nevertheless, Hiccup emerges from the blacksmith shop to test an improved version of his dragon netting device.  He takes aim at the elusive Night Fury dragon, fires, and hits.  But amid his excitement he also manages to turn the tide of the battle, in favor of the dragons.  When the smoke clears, Hiccup is persona non grata, as usual.

Because this is a kids movie, we know that Hiccup will eventually befriend his captured dragon (whom Hiccup calls Toothless), and we know from the trailer that Hiccup will also begin to learn about the dragon's culture, and find that they aren't so bad after all.  Everything else about this movie came to me as a refreshing surprise.

Although most characters (even Hiccup) are fairly simple, they still behave in an interesting way.  Hiccup's father is the film's antagonist in a sense, because he is most resistant to his son's notion that dragons are misunderstood.  He frustrates us by not listening to his son, but he also levels a reality check against Hiccup, minus the sugar coating, that the dragons kill people.  A dragon killed Hiccup's mother.  Dragons might be misunderstood, but they have deeds to answer for.  Snotlout (Jonah Hill) is placed in the typical bully role, but he isn't a typical bully.  He doesn't harbor animosity toward Hiccup, but merely toward what Hiccup represents: weakness.  When Hiccup's friendship with Toothless gives him an edge in dragon combat, Snotlout is one of the first to embrace Hiccup's new prowess.  Astrid is the most indignant among Hiccup's peers when he performs well, but that's because until now she has been the star pupil, voted most likely to slay a dragon.  From the trailer I thought I'd want Hiccup to end up with Ruffnut (Kristen Wiig), but Astrid has many endearing qualities, including a repeated phrase that ends with, "and that's for everything else".  When Hiccup is against the wall, Astrid's responses are surprising.

Basically, there are no villains, because the human characters, ultimately, are fighting for their culture, for the existence of their people, rather than for petty things like status or power.  The dragons are antagonists, but Hiccup's relationship with Toothless helps us see beyond their animalistic violence.  Six different types of dragon take center stage, but we hear about others as well.  They seem as varied as mammals, each with different powers, personalities, and ways of flying (they all fly like birds, but each flies like a different type of bird).  The largest but also nerdiest of Hiccup's peers, Fishlegs (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), has some great moments as he runs down the D&D-style stats of the various creatures as they appear.  The film is inspired by a novel, which explains its attention to detail and lore, typically underdeveloped in fantasy movies written directly for the screen.

This is Dreamworks's best digitally animated film to date, and visually stands apart from all their other efforts.  Every frame of this movie is a wonder to behold.  (I saw the movie in 2-D, but have it from my best friend that in 3-D it's incredible as well.)  Backgrounds are lush with details, including making Hiccup's town seem truly populated and lived in.  The human characters are exceptionally crafted.  With the exception of Hiccup and Astrid, most are distorted into bulky, top-heavy warriors; all fun to watch.  The dragons are magnificent.  Their action sequences, flying through the air and belching out streams of flames, are simply awesome.  The sound effects are intense as well; Toothless's distance attack makes a dissonant, metallic sound that caught my ears by surprise each time.

The dialog is consistently witty.  Screenscribe William Davies also penned Flushed Away (good) and Johnny English (terrible).  Dreamworks has something to be very proud of here.  I can't wait to see this movie again.


  1. Clare offers this alternative interpretation of the "fractalized Arabian" archways: "Oh, are those hand-doors? Oh, THREE hand-doors! Someday can I go through the hand-doors and see Uncle Will? Oh, but Daddy that door [at far right, cropped slightly by the photo edge] has a broken finger; why does it have a broken finger?"

    (By the way, she only looked at the pictures, so you may need to explain later that you aren't just writing a food and architecture journal.)

  2. Except for the posters, they haven't changed a thing about this place since I saw "Out of Africa" here 25 (or was it 26 years) ago! Next time I go back to California, I gotta see a movie here, just for nostalgia's sake!

  3. The theater is now closed. Cinemark built a larger theater nearby and closed this location.

    The Fremont Theater across the freeway (Cinedome East) is now demolished and replaced by a City Sports Gym.

  4. Thanks, CMLion. Looks like the Cinedome Newark 7 closed in 2012.