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

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

58. Babies

United Artists Emery Bay Stadium 10

The Emery Bay was built sometime in the early 1990s.  This source puts the construction of the nearby public market as early as 1988, so it's possible the theater followed in short order.

I have visited this theater at least sixty-three times, and at least once for each of the past ten years (a record of consistency unmatched by my visits to any other theater).  When I was in graduate school at Mills College, this was my preferred theater because of its convenient, abundant, and free parking.  The parking is still a big draw for me; if I'm going to hop in my car to go to a multi-plex, this would be my pick.

A cozy patio sits immediately in front of the theater, featuring a few benches and trees; a pleasant place to await one's movie buddies.  A tree-lined walk (with beautiful pink flowers in the spring) leads the way through the parking lot to a nearby building housing the public market (lots of tasty food) and a Borders.  The final approach into the building is one of the East Bay's unnatural wonders; some confluence of structures causes the passageway to be tremendously windy, all the time, even on still days.

In 2002 Emery Bay was hamstringed in by the opening of another theater just a few blocks away, the AMC Bay Street 16.  Initially the new releases seemed evenly split between the two, but a survey of this year's titles show a definitive favoritism for Bay Street, so obvious that some official districting must have identified Bay Street as the first choice, first-run theater for the area.  Emery Bay's big dogs this year have been Date Night, Percy Jackson, and A Nightmare on Elm Street, whereas Bay Street has won just about every other title you can think of.  When Bay Street finally dumped Avatar and Valentine's Day, Emery Bay picked them up (Bay Street later reclaimed Avatar).

Emery Bay currently lacks a 3-D projector, an indication that Regal might be poised to concede the neighborhood and close the theater.

The lobby has neon, so you know it's cool.  Using my Regal card, I was awarded a coupon good for one free movie ticket (but with the usual exceptions: no opening films, IMAX, RPX(?), 3-D, special attractions, movies with vowels in their titles, or movies your friends have told you about).  A special promotion at the box office (Stars of Hope) also automatically awarded each patron with a coupon for $1 candy (Sour Drops or some other similar item).

At present, a standee for the upcoming Narnia sequel dominates the lobby.  That's my movie buddy Carolyn sailing us to safe shores using the standee's turnable steering wheel.

The entire lobby is encircled by a beautiful mural showing a panoramic view of the Bay Area, somewhat from the perspective of the theater.  The scenes alternate between day time and night time, depicting such landmarks as UC Berkeley, the Tribune Tower (below), San Francisco's skyline, and Mount Tamalpais.

Below is a depiction of Lake Merit, with the court house in the distance.

A few arcade games are located at either side of the lobby, as is this "claw" game.  Mr. Burns offers a $1,000,000,000 bill to first individual to successfully extract him from this cesspool of fuzziness.

The left and right edges of the lobby each lead to a hallway, which in turn meet at a right angle at the back of the theater, making a triangular loop.  The auditoriums are plain, with comfortable seating and carpet that looks like a five-year-old's astronaut-themed pajama-party.  The box office attendant asked a manager for the theater's total seating capacity, coming back with a rough estimate of 342 seats per auditorium, for a total of 3,420 seats (this seems high to me, as it's more than double that of the 9-screen Jack London, and the auditorium we sat in contained only about 200 seats).

The ticket cost $10.00, but $1.00 of that went toward the Stars of Hope charity (and I got to write my name on a star), so my ticket somehow thinks it was only charged a student rate of $9.00.


Every time I see a cool car commercial I immediately race out and purchase two cars (in different colors) matching those advertised.  The guys at the lots now know me by name, and accept my OnePass card without batting an eye (allowing me to bypass all the boring paperwork and finagling, instead letting the computer automatically specify that I do want AC, but I don't want the extra undercoating; interest free, yes; cash rebate, no; and a generous commission to the salesman if the machine accepts my card without my having to put a plastic shopping bag over it first).  After I've seen an SUV clamber over a rocky bluff at the Grand Canyon, I typically like to reenact the scene on my neighbor's yard; when they yell at me for crushing their garden gnomes beneath my tiger-claw treads, I roll down my window by voice command and say to a hologram passenger, "Can you hear those birds chirping?  It's like being born all over again!"  Cars these days come with the equivalent of 150 gallons of compressed oak leaves, which you can choose to spray out in front of you as you race down the freeway for that "weekend in Maine" feeling (on my way home, I use my thought-activated GPS to help guide me past the congestion formed by debris on the freeway, from some inconsiderate litterer).  I won't buy a car unless all the seats and the dashboard fold completely flat to make room for a foosball table.  I went through a phase where I couldn't get enough cup holders; I wanted a cup holder for everything (wallet, sunglasses, change, Mardi-Gras beads, toll receipts, cell phone, trail mix, pen caps, and the occasional beverage).  So now I like to joke with the car salesman that I'd like at least two cup holders affixed to the ceiling.  I'm only joking, of course, but I still won't buy the car unless he actually installs them.  Anyway, all this is to say that when I saw Tony Stark take off his Iron Man costume and hop into a sparkly new car, I just knew I had to have two.  Of the Iron Man costume, I mean.

Mario has gone interstellar in the upcoming game Super Mario Galaxy 2 (well, since this is a sequel, apparently he went interstellar some time ago, without my knowing it).  The trailer is very cool, with our perspective zipping across tiny, geographically-exaggerated planets.  A dragon eats a moon, Mario rides on a dinosaur, and there's fun to be had by all.


Toy Story 3 (Trailer 3)

This movie will be fun, even though nothing about it seems original.  Let's see, Toy Story's militant Buzz, toys in the sand pile, and abuse by children?  Check.  Toy Story 2's semi-accidental abandonment and a clandestine conspiracy?  Check.  I'm not sure in what context Woody running across the desert being chased by a barrel of monkeys makes sense, but I'm looking forward to it, and to seeing the interactions between all the new toys.  Ken and Barbie?  You bet.  But where's the romance between Woody and Bo Peep?  Speaking of character development, Woody's best friend is Slink the Dog, but in the first mission Slink thought Woody had murdered Buzz, and in the second Slink had to help rescue Woody.  When do we get to see the two just hang out?  88 cuts.

Ramona and Beezus

I sometimes think that kids movies aren't so much made to entertain kids, or the parents who accompany them, but to present children with a movie their parents would like them to like, sort of like that nice so-and-so boy that your mother wishes you'd date, when we all know you'd rather ride on a motorcycle with the leader of the pack.  I enjoyed several Ramona books as a kid, even coming to them later than did my peers.  I'm surprised by two related things on Wikipedia: that the books span only five years in the character's life, but took 44 years to write, and that the first book, matching this movie's title, has the character at age four, even though she seems much older in the film (the actress is nearly eleven).  Anyway, the movie could be fun for very young children, but really only if the fantasy scenes inspire imaginations (e.g. when Ramona is on the monkey bars, she imagines she's crossing a canyon; I used to eat that stuff up from Muppet Babies). She and her father decide to draw the world's longest picture, and the result looks like it was a film employee's full-time job to create.  85 cuts.

Waiting for "Superman"

"Either kids are getting stupider every year, or something is wrong in the education system".  Not to discredit the film's intentions, but here's a recipe for depressing me: tell me that kids all across the country are receiving a terrible education, akin to them drowning on the Titanic, and that things are so bad the only way to 'fix' it is to rescue a select few, via lottery, to go to some special school, while the other kids are left to fend for themselves.  One thing I've never agreed with, though, is using international rankings to demonstrate our mediocrity.  If every nation had an excellent education system, someone would still be in 25th place, so our low ranking alone doesn't support the film's arguments.  It was difficult enough to watch kids lose the dance off in Mad Hot Ballroom; do I really want to see them lose the lottery that would allow them to be educated?  86 cuts.  Oh, and just in case you had your hopes up, this movie has nothing to do with superheroes or capes.

Despicable Me (Trailer 4)

(Previously reviewed)


A year in the life of four babies, two in the city (Hattie in San Francisco, Mari in Tokyo), two in the country (Bayar in Mongolia, Ponijao in Namibia).  We watch them cry, crawl, fight with their siblings, and bond with their parents, each in a distinct environment.

The early lives of Hattie and Mari closely mirror each other.  Both spend most of their time indoors, supervised.  They take fascinating trips through the supermarket and toy stores; ride around in strollers and car seats, in parks and at the beach.  Ponijao is also supervised at all times, though sometimes more closely by an older child than an adult.  Contrasted to the urbanites, who are constantly jet-setting from one place to another, most of Ponijao's first year occurs within a few feet of her hut.  Bayar is free to leave the hut, if he can just make it out the door; he seems to have the run of the hillside all to himself.

For the most part, the filmmaker is hands off, content to let the camera watch events unfold (dangerously, at times; Bayar almost gets himself killed or castrated at least seventy times).  There were a few moments, though, that seemed cruelly contrived.  At a new age spiritual gathering in San Francisco, we listen to a leader sing, "We love the Earth; she is our mother; she will take care of us".  Chanting about the earth while in a sterile environment already seems ridiculous in contrast to the open wilderness in which Bayar and Ponijao are being raised; to then cut to Hattie making a dash for the door, as if to escape the brainwashing, is just mean.  In another juxtaposition, we see Bayar, Hattie, and Mari each playing with a family cat.  What cuddly creature does Ponijao get to play with?  Flies.  We later see her playing with a dog, so why couldn't that have been the Namibian equivalent of the house cat?  Instead the filmmaker chose to play up the ruggedness of Ponijao's hut.

I tried to just watch and appreciate, but I found myself drifting toward judgments, disappointed that Hattie's upbringing didn't come across better.  (USA!  USA!)  Loving parents, lots of toys, a clean house, a hot tub; everything a child deserves.  But look at Hattie in this picture.  Poor child, weighed down by good intentions.  Ponijao, on the other hand, finds a bone in the dirt and sticks it in her mouth.  She bends over in a creek to take a drink, with the nearest adult thirty feet away.  She sticks her hand in a dog's mouth, gets her head shaved by a knife, figures out that boys and girls are different, and imitates her mother's words, all with a smile on her face as if to say, "What evs".

The cultural differences are fascinating to watch, but what makes the movie a true joy is that someone spent years of their life putting together a professional baby movie.  Instead of waiting patiently while a parent attempts to elicit a performance from their child, or sitting through hours of mostly-boring baby footage, I get to watch four years of childhood expertly distilled to eighty minutes of fun.

Theater Distribution, Part 3

One of the questions I've been interested to answer this year is, How much variety in selection do we have at the box office?  I mentioned in my first article in this series that the number of films shown in the U.S. yearly has been on the rise over the past fifteen years, which would suggest an increase in variety.  But I want to place this number in the context of how accessible these films are.

Over the past twenty Fridays, roughly 113 Bay Area theaters have exhibited an average of sixty different films, for an average of 3,926 daily showings.  (These numbers fluctuate on a weekly basis for a number of reasons, not least of which is that theaters inconsistently report their showtimes to online sources.)

The chart below shows the percentage of those daily showings accounted for by the top 5, 10, 15, and 20 films ('top' meaning the film with the most daily showings in the Bay Area).  Think of this as a vertical slider between diversity (on the bottom) and homogeneity (on the top).

The topmost line indicates that of the sixty movies available on a given day, twenty of them consistently consume 95% of the daily showtimes.  It would be very uncommon for a movie not in wide release to be among these Top 20 movies.  Sixty movies is a lot to choose from when going out for an evening, but you're going to need to dig to find a theater showing anything out of the main stream.

We see the most fluctuation in the bottom line, and many of these peaks and dips have discernible causes.  Our low point in January corresponds to the Oscar season.  Many independent films from December had been held over and given wider distribution than would normally be awarded.  The Oscar nominees were announced in the first week of February, maintaining the low-homogeneity for an additional week, but the next week, that of 2/12, saw a return to what I now consider a more normal percentage.  Theaters gave the nominees one week to leverage their clout for additional ticket sales, then immediately scaled back those titles when interest failed to materialize.

The peaks each correspond to the release of a movie that captured an above-average number of screens in its debut weekend.  Alice in Wonderland (3/5), Clash of the Titans (4/9) and now Shrek Forever After (5/21), with a staggering 943 daily showings (25% of all daily showings).  You might also notice a pattern here with regard to format: these movies were each released in 3-D.  I attribute this partly to an atmosphere of Avatar-induced euphoria, and partly to a desire to screen these films in both 3-D and 2-D, catering equally to the innovative and to the skeptical.

The dip on 4/30 is the second week of the San Francisco International Film Festival.  Though few large theaters participated, many small theaters momentarily dropped their mainstream fare.

I'm also interested in the difference between the shape of the lines.  Looking at the dips in homogeneity in January and April, it's tempting to think that smaller films were prevailing.  In truth, the tug of war is always between the big dogs.  In January, for instance, homogeneity might have been at a low for the Top 5 movies, but the next fifteen films were more than happy to pick up the slack, resulting in the steady 95% line for the Top 20.  The two lessons here are that many Oscar nominees are still, relatively speaking, mainstream, and that when the major parties duke it out, that doesn't mean there is room for an independent to sneak in.

Of the 751 movies that have been shown in the Bay Area so far this year, the Top 50 were also in wide release nationwide (1000+ engagements).  The Bay Area has breadth, but as a metropolitan community we aren't championing any particular underdog title.  Notable exceptions?  The Runaways was only exhibited by 244 theaters nationwide (at any one time); 33 Bay Area theaters showed the film.  The Ghost Writer peaked at 224 theaters nationwide; 36 Bay Area theaters exhibited it.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Strategy, Part 3

Just a quick note that I'm way behind on my reviews, both for those that count (i.e. that get a number), and those that don't, including some picture-heavy follow-ups to some great theaters.  The need to review my visits has been preventing me from frequenting the theater as often as I'd like, so I've made three radical concessions, all temporary (I hope).

1. I've skipped a few reviews, numbers 54-57, all from the same day while out with my best friend.  I'll return to these just as soon as I have a breather, but I want to once again feel like I'm caught up, and therefore free to see more movies.

2. I haven't written any Top Ten Tuesdays for a while now, as they are time-consuming to put together, and tend to stay pinned to the top of the page, obscuring the theater reviews.

3. I'm no longer controlling the dates of the review.  Previously, I retroactively published each review to match the date and time that I saw the movie.  The result was that reviews mysteriously appeared in the archives, without ever having debuted on the front page.  This was especially problematic because of Top Ten Tuesday, which I usually managed to publish on time, even when all the movies I had seen before that Tuesday were still in my hopper.  I might later effect a policy by which I reorder the publish dates once they are a month or so in the past, but for now, I'll just let it be.  If you really want to know when I actually saw the movie, you can look at the ticket stub.

57. Shrek Forever After

Orinda Theatre

Built in 1941, the Orinda Theatre was designed by architect Alexander Aimwell Cantin, who also designed the Elmwood in Berkeley, the Fox Oakland, the Fox California in Salinas, the now-closed Coronet in San Francisco, and the Rheem Theatre in Moraga (which closed just a month ago, without my having visited it).  The marquee is magnificent.  Though visible from the freeway, this is the first time I've seen it up close.

In the photo above you can just make out a few picketers with signs that read "This theater does not employ union projectionists".  I recognized one of the picketers as the projectionist from a nearby theater.  Having no prior opinion on the subject, I am swayed by a post by "JDC" here that if most theaters don't employ union workers, it doesn't make much sense to picket the little guy.  Though I suppose one pickets where there is a chance for reform, and the unionists can expect better success with an independent theater than with a national circuit.

My camera's batteries were quickly waning, so I don't have enough photos to do this theater justice (I hope to visit again soon).  The lobby is a large oval shape, with a mural decorating the ceiling, stretching out above the concession stand, and a beautiful mural woven into the carpet as well.  After my movie I chatted for a bit with the manager, Will.  Talking about San Francisco's Fox Theatre (1929-1963), he made the comparison that the tiny dome way up at the top of that theater's enormous ceiling was larger than the Orinda's entire lobby.

The main auditorium seats 750; one of the largest auditoriums I've visited thus far.  The seats are wide, but do not recline.  The auditorium is gorgeous, with three larger-than-life murals decorating each wall and trim billowing around the stage.  An elegant curtain rises with each showing.  The screen is a bit small, so I recommend sitting up close.

The auditorium is lit by an enchanting scheme of colored fixtures on the walls and ceiling.  The murals themselves were originally painted with some element of ultraviolet paint by Anthony Heinsbergen, who also collaborated with architect Cantin on the Lorenzo Theater in San Lorenzo.  (Though I can't quite reconcile the dates for this, with the Orinda pre-dating the Lorenzo, but the Lorenzo's entry on Cinema Treasures says it featured the first "black light murals in Northern California history".)  The Orinda is considering installing ultraviolet lights to once again illuminate this effect.

Below is a sample mural.  Many aspects of the theater's design, including the murals, were inspired by the Court of the Moon in the 1939 World's Fair on Treasure Island.

A tiny hallway with a long, frosted light fixture leads away from the lobby into an adjoining space, once occupied by Wells Fargo.  The hallway ends in a small lobby, with this tremendous fixture (below) hanging overhead.

From this lobby one can gain access to auditoriums two and three, seating 178 and 47, respectively.  (In all the theater seats 975.)  These auditoriums, built in the 1980s (by the Grand Lake's Allen Michaan, I believe), might be newer, but care has been taken to decorate them as exquisitely as the main auditorium.  I don't have any pictures yet of auditorium two, but its murals and chandelier were rescued from the Garden Theatre in San Jose (1949-1988), as were the etched glass doors leading into both auditoriums.  I'll need to see a movie in one of these screens to see if ambient light leaks in through the glass doors (from the lobby, I could see the credits rolling on the screen inside), but they certainly are pretty.

Auditorium three has been decorated in an Egyptian theme, like at the Grand Lake and Shattuck Cinemas.

The room is tiny (almost tomb-like), but look at these golden walls!  If one must be buried, better to be buried with gold and a movie than without.

Roger Leatherwood, who was once a manager at the Grand Lake, filmed parts of his movie Usher in the Orinda.  This still from the film shows off the lobby.


Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore (Trailer 2)

This movie looks so dumb, it hurts my brain just to think about it.  That said, I actually enjoyed some of the visual effects (minus the animals) in this trailer.  Lots of cool secret bases, jet packs, and rocket tubes.  Cuts unknown.

The Last Airbender (Trailer 3)
Even with my eyes closed, the pounding music gave me goosebumps.  How can this movie not be the best thing ever?

Megamind (Trailer 2)

Unlike the first trailer, this follow-up reveals more of the plot.  Put in a tiny spacecraft by his parents just as his world is destroyed, Megamind whizzes off to earth where, presumably, he will become a great hero.  Unfortunately, another interstellar baby beats him there, eventually donning the title Metro Man, and becoming the just and nobel foil to Megamind's schemes.  Assuming Metro Man (Brad Pitt, sounding like George Clooney) features prominently in the film, with his Lois Lane-like sidekick (Tina Fey), this film could be awesome.  As Despicable Me and Heroes know, every super-powered protagonist needs a nemesis.  This trailer has made my interest in the movie go way up.  92 cuts.

Shrek Forever After

Here's a quick recap of the Shrek franchise, for those of you just joining us.  In the first outing, a curmudgeony ogre, Shrek, befriends a talking donkey, Donkey, and falls in love with a princess, Fiona.  Fiona is cursed with being human by day and ogre by night.  By sharing a kiss of true love with Fiona, Shrek frees her of her curse, allowing her, surprisingly, to be an ogre all the time.  The movie is rife with jibes at fairytales in general and Disney in particular, and is mostly entertaining, even though Shrek is annoying as a protagonist.  In the almost-as-funny sequel, we meet Fiona's parents, a conniving fairy godmother, a disgruntled Prince Charming, and a swashbuckling cat, Puss In Boots.  Shrek and Fiona are happy together, but Shrek is made to feel unwelcome by everyone else.  If you liked Shrek, you'll like Shrek 2.  It isn't as original as the first, but it tries to throw in all the fairytale jokes that Shrek left on the cutting room floor.  Then comes Shrek the Third.  Shrek is reluctant to become king, so he seeks out another possible heir, Artie (roping in Arthurian legend).  Prince Charming unites the villains of Far Far Away in a coupe against Fiona's royal family.  There are various deceptions and skirmishes, with good ultimately prevailing.  High points include a cadre of ninja princesses, lead by Fiona, and a wide assortment of stock fairytale villains.  Jabs at Harry Potter, some body switching, and an all-too-predictable plot, though, bring this movie in several steps below its predecessors.

The fourth and final installment in the franchise now finds Shrek weighed down by familial duties and longing for the days of old when he was free to terrorize villagers and sulk in the forest.  The devious Rumpelstiltskin, bitter at Shrek for unknowingly wrecking another of Rumpel's schemes when he rescued Fiona, tricks Shrek into signing a contract that propels Shrek into a world where he had never existed.  A world without Shrek means Fiona was never rescued, and Rumpel's plan to wrest control of the kingdom from Fiona's parents is a success (though the film never explains why this doesn't result in the lifting of Fiona's curse).  Shrek has just one day to correct the alternate reality before he disappears forever.

A franchise has run its course when it occupies itself entirely with self references.  This isn't necessary a bad thing; see "Once More, With Feeling" from Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, or Star Trek: Voyager's "Shattered", or Ocean's Eleven, which references itself right from the beginning.  But, in the case of Shrek, this means that the fairytale jokes are out; in their place are a monotonous string of what-if introductions to the characters of this alternate universe, all revealed in the trailer.

The star of this movie ends up being Fiona.  Without Shrek to rescue her, she eventually rescues herself, become the bitter leader of the ogre resistance.  She's tough, mean, beautiful, and armed with a mace; everything a man looks for in a woman.  The film lacks humor, but it lays on the sentimentality thick; I'm a sucker for this stuff, so I was almost in tears several times.  Is that what the film's creators were going for?

I saw this film in 3-D, but wasn't impressed.  There is slightly better depth, and Dreamworks has updated their characters a bit to be more fluid, but the new technology doesn't add much and the human characters still move like zombies.  Remember in Mean Girls when Lacey Chabert's character keeps trying to "make Rufus happen", i.e. to coin a catchphrase?  There is a belabored sequence with a grumpy kid at a birthday party that is just begging the audience to please, please, please imitate this annoying child's catchphrase.  I can only hope that they fail.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

53. The Secret of Kells

Roxie Theater

Opening in 1909, San Francisco's Roxie Cinema is the city's oldest operating movie theater, and, so far, the oldest theater I've found in the Bay Area (discounting the Victoria Theatre and Fort Point Theater).  In 2004 the theater expanded to a second screen, the "Little Roxie", just two doors down from the original.  The theater was recently remodeled in March.

The Roxie offers an eclectic program of independent film.  Despite being closed for three weeks in March, the theater has already exhibited fifty movies on its two screens this year, more than at nearly fifty other local theaters with 2+ screens (including the Century San Francisco Centre 9), and as many as at the AMC Bay Street 16.  For thirty-nine of its fifty films, the Roxie is the only theater in the Bay Area to have shown that movie this year.

The lobby in the main building is small, but cozy, with a comfy couch to one side, large prints on display showing film exhibition equipment, and a cute candy counter in the middle.  Like many of its fellow small theaters, the Roxie has an impressive kiosk of playbills from other theaters, including a celebration of Akira Kurosawa at the Pacific Film Archive, the Hola Mexico Film Festival at the Embarcadero, and the San Francisco International Film Festival at various theaters throughout the city.

Going on now, the Roxie is presenting twenty-eight seldom-seen noir movies in their "I Still Wake Up Dreaming!" festival.  They exhibit several other mini-festivals throughout the year, listed here.

The main auditorium seats 238 in a simply decorated room, with elegant light fixtures lining the walls.

Tickets are purchased at the main box office for both theaters, but one then walks two doors down to gain admission to the Little Roxie.

An arm of the theater, Roxie Releasing, serves as a distribution branch for many small films, including those listed here, and those whose posters decorate the walls of the Little Roxie's lobby.

The auditorium in the Little Roxie, where I saw my film, seats 49 and provides ample legroom.  Unfortunately, daylight from the front of the building leaks directly into the auditorium when rude patrons such as myself show up just as the film is beginning.


(Unknown.  I arrived late.)

The Secret of Kells

The most recent animated movie to bring in $100M in the U.S. was Lilo & Stitch in 2002.  Disney's subsequent releases, paling to their heyday of the 1990s, petered out with Home on the Range in 2004, and a declaration that the studio would henceforth concentrate on digitally animated films.  With Disney bowing out of the race, and foreign features barely making a dent in the domestic market (Miyazaki's Spirited Away, Howl's Moving Castle, and Ponyo together earned only $30M in the U.S.), the domestic box office has been dominated by digitally animated films ever since (twenty-six such films have earned $100M+ in the U.S.).  Does traditional animation survive?  In the home market, yes, with direct-to-video features still filling a niche.  (I'm a big supporter of the superhero direct-to-video sub-genre.)  Aside from Miyazaki's films, though, even the international market has been drained.  The beautiful, acclaimed, and diverse The Triplets of Belleville, Steamboy, Waltz with Bashir, and now The Secret of Kells together have earned less than $36M worldwide.

The Secret of Kells takes full advantage of its medium, leveraging several different styles of animation to depict its various characters and even the eponymous book, shown in such vivid detail that I fully appreciated the movie's statement that this book could change lives.  Our story follows Brendan, a young monk fascinated by new arrival Brother Aidan, whose talents precede him.  As Brendan's fellow monks tell it, Aidan's third eye has allowed him to create a book so beautiful that to look upon it is to peer directly into Heaven.  Aidan's arrival, though, foretells danger; he is a refugee from his own monastery, destroyed by viking invaders, who even now approach Brendan's monastery, the Abbey of Kells.  Brendan's uncle, Cellach (voiced to perfection by Brendan Gleeson), as abbot of the monastery and charged with protecting its citizens, has been employing all the labor in his control to build an enormous wall around his village, hoping to repel the imminent attack through shear defensive superiority.  Despite the fall of Aidan's home, Cellach alone seems to comprehend the danger they are all in; he labors tirelessly to complete the wall, and derides all attempts to continue the monks' more traditional roles (such as authoring books).

Disobeying his uncle's orders, Brendan begins to secretly apprentice himself to Aidan, to aid in completing Aidan's magical book.  To this end, Brendan is dispatched into the forest, beyond the wall, to gather ingredients for the different inks the book requires.  Once in the forest, Brendan meets Aisling, a forest apparition who can appear as a young girl or a white wolf.  Together the two work to fulfill Aidan's list, but this brings them to some ancient ruins where the Dark One resides, waiting to be awakened.  Brendan applies his educated knowledge of the past to rebuff Aisling's superstition about the place, but Aisling knows first hand that the Dark One is real.

Every frame of this film is vivid, interesting, and beautiful.  And make no mistake, this movie isn't for young children, despite its young protagonists and flat animation.  The film's various conflicts are intense and graphic.  Brendan's relationship with Cellach is especially difficult to watch, because the movie doesn't demonize Cellach.  He is flawed, but stewards the best interests of his constituents; and Brendan, for his part, is immature.  Cellach and Brendan represent the central conflict of what is most valuable; to Cellach, it is human life, thus the importance of completing the wall; but to Brendan it is art and knowledge, thus his quest to finish Aidan's book.  Though the movie sides with Brendan by virtue of following him more closely, it doesn't shy away from making us uncomfortable having to choose.

Though the vikings are depicted as purely evil, killing for its own sake, there is an interesting double contrast between their barbarism, the civilized culture of the Abbey, and the pagan naturalism Brendan finds in the forest with Aisling.  From Aisling's perspective, Brendan's people, walling themselves off from the world, are no more righteous than the vikings who want to bring down that wall.

The movie ended too soon for my tastes; I could have stayed under its spell much longer.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Fort Point Theater

While participating in the annual walk to benefit the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, my family and I happened upon San Francisco's Fort Point national historic site. Begun during the Gold Rush, and completed at the beginning of the Civil War, the fort is currently open three days a week for tourism.

Though the fort is now dwarfed by the Golden Gate Bridge, it stood alone on San Francisco's northernmost point for nearly sixty years.

It is currently accessible by car, bike, foot, surfboard, parasail, and zebra-striped tour bus.

Below is a detail of the fort as it was at the time of its completion, with cannons facing toward the sea and bay, and rifle slots pointing toward the land.

So, what does this beautiful old building have to do with my blog?  Why, it has a theater, of course!

Dedicated to Charles S. Hawkings in 1993, the Fort Point Theater seats approximately twenty-seven on long wooden benches.  The auditorium exists in what could have perhaps been a storage room for gun powder, barrels of pickles, or laserdiscs.  Who's to say.  A historical film about Fort Point plays on continuous loop, projected onto a pull-down screen.  Even though the theater wasn't inaugurated until 1993, I'd guess that this theater's enclosing building is older than that of any other theater in the Bay Area (I wouldn't be surprised if this is one of the oldest surviving structures on the entire west coast).

And the view?

Date Night (2nd Visit)

Grand Lake Theater

(Previously reviewed)
This is my third visit to the Grand Lake this year, giving another opportunity to photograph some parts of the theater that I hadn't yet been able to see, or had previously overlooked.  For starters, there's the large sign on the rooftop, here seen from the rear.

Some decorative work (below) just above the front entrance.

They just finished repainting the underside of the marquee; here you can see it before they've yet replaced all the lightbulbs.

The theater's ovular foyer is marvelous, with light beaming in from the street, second-story balconies looking down, giant urns recessed into the wall, and gilded molding everywhere.

Fliers sit to one side, in what looks to be an older coming attraction display case.  The shot below is the decorative work just above the case.

Looking down at the lobby from one of the second floor windows.

Below are doors similar to those through which the previous shot was taken.

The theater has four auditoriums.  On my two previous visits I photographed the main auditorium and the Moorish auditorium.  Tonight I was in the upper auditorium, created by building a screen at the edge of the balcony, cutting the upper level off from the lower level.

I recommend taking advantage of the upper echelons of the stadium seating, otherwise you'll be craning your neck.

I often compare theater seats to those at the Grand Lake.  Here's a shot up close.  Can you feel the comfort?  I've been surprised thus far in my project at the variety of seats available today, and how often they are uncomfortable.  I'd be curious to know how idiosyncratic levels of seating comfort are, given a person's weight, width, height, etc.

Several different styles of light fixtures decorate the theater.  Below is one from the highest level of the auditorium.

Golden molding leaves no corner neglected.

A false balcony above the emergency exit is the perfect place for a hero to direct traffic during our time of need.

The seating availability in the mezzanine lounge has once again changed, with the plush chairs now entirely absent.

On the ground floor, an atmospheric stained glass window decorates the corner just before you turn down the hall for auditoriums three and four.


Sex and the City 2

(Previously reviewed)

Robin Hood (Trailer 2)

Never content to tease us with teasers, to leave us curious, studios usually bombard us with a fully revelatory trailer just a few months in advance of the film's opening.  If the villain had been hidden, they are now exposed.  If the movie's plot and eventual resolution had been in doubt, all is made clear.  Any of the top billed actors not fortunate enough to speak dialog or even appear in the first trailer are now given their due (i.e. Cate Blanchett, William Hurt, Max von Sydow, Mark Strong, and Oscar Isaac).  Is it not enough to have Russell Crowe emerge screaming from the water?  Russell Crowe, swords, bows and arrows.  We're a simple people.  We don't need plot, and especially not a plot we've already seen.  Remember when Tombstone and Wyatt Earp were released within a year of each other?  Kevin Costner's Wyatt Earp was, despite his cold line "wives die", the warmer of the two portrayals.  When the ladies fall for him, I could see why.  But when Kurt Russell's Wyatt Earp shouts, "And I'm bringing Hell with me!", you know he means business.  He's so mad, he's going to kill everyone twice, and he might even shoot the screenwriter for even thinking up bad guys.  Robin Hood is a bit like that.  Costner's Robin Hood was a good bedfellow to Maid Marion, but Crowe's the man you want in a scrape. 165 cuts, but they come too fast to count in some places.  This trailer makes me want to revisit the first, and increase it to four stars.

Iron Man 2 (Trailer 2)

(Previously reviewed)

Date Night

(Previously reviewed)
My parents were in town, so we went to see Date Night (a sure winner with the folks), making it the first movie this year that I've seen twice.  A few notes.

In what appears to be a gaff, the bad guys never identify what has been stolen; they merely call it "property".  It is Steve Carell who first names it as a "flash drive".

I love the moment when, having outrun their pursuers, Tina Fey looks at her hyperventilating husband and says he needs to do more cardio, to which he replies, "I'm not out of shape, I'm scared."

I work as a developer of databases, and one of my chief concerns of late has been to update an existing system so that it isn't so slow for my clients.  Thus I took great delight when Tina Fey, hurriedly accessing a computer, sees the spinning cursor and shouts in exasperation, "rainbow wheel!"