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

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

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.


  1. Three things I forgot to say:
    1. The songs were too deliberately placed and the singing was contrived.
    2. The closing credits have a cool recap of the first three films.
    3. At one point Rumpel exclaims, "Oh goody damn". What a creative expletive.

  2. If you liked Shrek, you'll like Shrek 2.

    Wrong. I thought Shrek was a fantastic movie, hilarious and original. I didn't care much for Shrek 2 at all; and didn't find it very funny or memorable. Because of this, I never saw and indeed hardly paid attention to the release of the third movie. I might watch the fourth in the theater with my two children to help kill some afternoon weekend time away from the 137 degree heat, so perhaps I should watch the third so I can understand some of these what ifs. (Probably should watch the second again as well . . . but I won't).

  3. Hi, Will, The large chandelier in the far lobby is from the UA Theatre in Berkeley (now an 7-plex) in the original lobby. There was another one that was outside in the tiled rotunda off the sidewalk but one day it crashed making a tremendous noise. When UA moved the doors out to the street they changed the lobby and Allen Michaan bought/acquired the other one, that was hanging in the main lobby over the old snack bar.

    Theatre 3 was the alleyway between the old Wells Fargo bank and the original theatre, and is therefore very narrow. You can go into the other side of the mall and discover where you would have walked through in the old days.

    You may have also noted that the males in the murals have pants added, including one with blue jeans, not entirely true to the period. Thanks for the callout on the film, if you need more bg let me know and keep up the good work!

  4. I, too, liked the first Shrek but was "meh" on the second film in the franchise. I think Mike Meyers characters tend to have more quickly diminishing returns than average in sequels (see also: Austin Powers).

    Re: creative expletives -- My favorite usage may be in The Fantastic Mr. Fox (GREAT film). I still can't believe they got a "clustercuss" in there.

  5. OSR, I think you can safely skip both. Better to watch How to Train Your Dragon two more times than the Shreks once each.

  6. Roger, thanks for the extra info! That certainly explains the narrowness of auditorium 3. I hadn't noticed the pants on the mural; sounds like those poor men were victimized by the same executives who took down Happy the Hedgehog.

  7. Shakier Anthem, ditto on Mike Meyers. I am not a fan. Wayne/Austin/Shrek I can do without. Every once in a while he turns up in a cameo, and I never like those either (Mystery, Alaska, A View from the Top, Inglourious Basterds).

    Clustercuss was great!