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.


  1. THEY'RE MAKING A MOVIE OF RAMONA AND BEEZUS???? I had no idea! I hope they do it justice -- I loved those books as a kid.

  2. You have made this movie sound interesting enough I think I will rent it.

    Red Box should pay 50 cents of my dollar to you as a commission.

  3. Shakier Anthem: It seems books are better at making a kid seem more mature, and more interesting. I don't have high hopes for Ramona and Beezus, just like I'm skeptical of someone successfully pulling off Ender's Game without making Ender seem too childish.

  4. OSR, I will be expecting two shiny coins from Red Box in the mail any day now.