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

Saturday, July 31, 2010


Castro Theatre

(Previously Reviewed)

Back in May I revisited the Castro, and this time took some pictures. The screening of 2009's Julia was picked by Roger Ebert, as part of his acceptance of the San Francisco International Film Festival's Mel Novikoff Award.

Bus electrical lines aside, when you approach the Castro, you know something magical is about to happen.

Like waiting in long lines! What, did I think I was the only Roger Ebert fan in the world? The line to get in stretched from the photographer-lined red carpet at the front door (wow, a red carpet! I feel like such a star), to the corner of 17th St, and from there to the corner of Hartford St.

Not to be stopped, the line continued on down Hartford St., perhaps all the way back to 18th St., making a half circuit around the block. While in line I happily chatted with a fellow film-goer who is also a regular at SFIFF screenings, and she says that this line was extraordinarily long, contrasted to the line she had been in the night before to see Robert Duvall receive the Peter J. Owens Award.

Above the entrance...

Under the marquee...

The ticket booth (though so far I've only seen tickets sold from tables set up in the foyer)...

This time around I went for a balcony seat, to take in the expanse of this gorgeous theater.

The murals on the sides of the walls seem to reach into a different time...

A close-up of that same mural...

I couldn't quite get a good picture of the ceiling fixture, but it is massive, and depicts various characters around its circumference...

So, at this point its been several months since I attended this film, so my memory is hazy, my notes are blurry, and, as always, time is short. So I'm going to quickly steamroll through this.

1. The director of the festival began the introductions, talking about how Mel Novikoff had helped preserve the Castro Theater, and how eight of the nine members of the award committee had personally met Novikoff before his passing.

2. Ebert walks in, like the rock star he is, and gets a thunderous standing ovation. It's awesome to see a writer receive this outpouring of appreciation, and especially a writer who has worked so tirelessly, for so long, to help us better understand and enjoy movies.

3. Director Terry Zwigoff (Ghost World) talks about his earlier movie, Crumb (1994), and how Ebert's recognition of that film helped launch his career. He shared an anecdote that at an audience screening of his movie, the reaction had been so poor that he stuffed the ballot box with bogus (favorable) responses before handing it over to the studio.

4. Director Errol Morris (The Fog of War) applauded Ebert's Overlooked Film Festival, bringing more attention to worthy movies that have not received their due. He also celebrated Ebert as a film enthusiast.

5. Director Jason Reitman (Juno, Up in the Air) said that at the Toronto Film Festival, after a screening of Juno, Ebert leaned forward in his seat, made eye contact with Reitman sitting further down the row, and gave an approving nod. Like being anointed. Reitman echoed Morris, saying Ebert has an enthusiasm for films, whereas so many other critics give the impression that they hate movie. Finally, he applauded Ebert for railing against Sarah Palin, against 3-D technology, and for being skeptical about video games (Ebert still hasn't heard the end of that one).

6. Local director Philip Kaufman (The Right Stuff), a long-time friend of Ebert's, talked about his beloved wife Rose, how the two of them had been fed up with Hollywood crap and decided to make their own films, and how an NC-17 rating for Henry & June had nearly killed the project. He described Ebert as a compassionate writer. He then read a commanding letter from Mayor Gavin Newsom that practically nominated Ebert for President, ending in a declaration that May 1, 2010 is Roger Ebert Day.

7. Finally, Ebert (pictured below, with his wife) addressed his fans. A recent operation has left him unable to speak, so instead his Mac laptop spoke on his behalf, reading off a speech he had prepared. He said that when he's sitting in a theater and sees "people watching the trailer to Iron Man 2 on their iPhones it makes me want to scream at the heavens!" Different forms of technology (including 3-D projection) are intruding in cinemas, distancing viewers from the film. He had some unkind things to say about several blockbusters I happen to actually enjoy, and about Angelina Jolie, but he also said that "an audience forms a personality... It is one way we become a society". That was certainly my experience being present this evening, part of a large group all celebrating the same person. Congratulations, Roger.

The seats in the balcony...

The balcony ceiling...

Molding above a superficial column on the wall...

A crest above the emergency exit...

Even the fire hose reel has detail...

An ornate light fixture...

Unfortunately, the upper mezzanine was closed off, reserved for photographers, so I didn't get any pictures there.




Ebert picked this movie for us to see, because it had been overlooked in the previous year, and so I hold Ebert accountable. Tilda Swinton is Julia, a down-on-her-luck someone (actress? ad rep?). While reluctantly attending an AA meeting, Julia is chatted up by an desperate mother who says she wants to kidnap her own son from her son's paternal grandfather. Julia thinks this is such a great idea that she decides to do it herself, cutting the mother out of the deal, and therefore hoping to keep the ransom money for herself. And indeed she does kidnap the son, embarking on an unpredictably violent crusade for the ransom.

No other movie has made me this uncomfortable. At every turn, I think Julia will suddenly recognize  her error and take action to correct her course, but instead she heads deeper into malice. She doesn't just burn her bridges; she poisons the very ground she walk on, leaving no way out, no possibility to return to her former life unscathed. I wanted to untether myself from her as a protagonist; I was hoping someone, anyone would break through the door of her dingy motel room and arrest her, so that I might be free. It was as if she had kidnapped me. The camera follows her with claustrophobic proximity, making me an accessory to her cruelty toward the boy and her treatment of others.

She is thoroughly unlikeable, yet we have front row seats to a fascinating depiction of the Stockholm Syndrome, and a role reversal for her. The boy, dragged to the middle of nowhere, must rely on Julia for his survival. Julia, in turn, hounded by the authorities, the boy's grandfather, and other schemers, becomes increasingly invested in and reliant upon the boy. This movie is incredibly well done, and sick, sick, sick.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Tour of the Mission

I said in my review of the Victoria Theatre that there were more than a dozen theaters on Mission St. between 14th and 24th. In actually mapping the locations of these theaters, though, I now cannot corroborate this claim. Rather, I think might have been misreading the opening line from Jack Tillmany's chapter on "The Mission" in his book Theatres of San Francisco, but that line refers to all the theaters "from Sixteenth Street to the San Mateo County line", a much longer stretch of the road.  So, with that retraction in mind, I decided to pay a visit to the neighborhood to take a closer look at the buildings still standing.

Mission St. is unique in that its old theaters have not been torn down, preserving the theater congestion also seen on Market St. during the heyday. Below are photos I took of these theaters on this walking tour. The theater's header is a link to its page on Cinema Treasures. The lists of akas include links to photos of the theater during its various incarnations.

Grand Theater (1940-1988)
Here is an older photo. The building now houses a dollar store, which means I actually got to go inside!

Standing in the auditorium...

Fancy grill work on the air ducts...

More grill work...

Decorative molding on the ceiling...

And looking up at the old projection booth. At this point, the proprietors kindly asked me to stop taking pictures. (Afraid I was price hunting? In a dollar store?)

New Mission Theater (1916-1993)
This would have been the crown jewel of the Mission; an absolutely lavish theater built by Timothy L. Pflueger, who also gave us the AlhambraCastro, and Paramount. Be sure to check out the Cinema Treasures link above as there are some old photos of the interior of the theater.

The vertical sign isn't looking so hot these days, but check it out in 1943.

Likewise the marquee has seen better days.

The sun beats down.

I'm not sure if this will gain traction, but there is a movement to convert the theater into a night club. That link shows several photos of the theater's interior, as it is today, following the graffiti introduced by this rave.

I find this photo of particular interest because it reveals the funky floor plan of the theater, with an incredibly long lobby reaching deep into the block. The auditorium itself was actually on the other side of the block. This photo below shows the lobby structure (at right) connecting to the theater's auditorium (at left), with a fire escape coming down from the theater's balcony.

Below is the rear of the theater.

Cine Latino (1913-1987)
Known variously as the Wigwam, New RialtoCrown, and Cine Latino. The theater is now entirely gutted.

Tower Theater (1910s-1994)
Known as the Majestic and Tower.

Looks like there is some sort of renovation going on inside, in the sense that the theater hasn't been totally gutted like the Cine Latino. In an ally to once side are many of the theater's seats.

El Capitan (1928-1957)
Once the El Capitan, always the El Capitan.

Beautiful fa├žade, in a style similar to that of the Castro.

What was once the lobby is now a driveway to a parking lot.

There is still some nice decorative work visible in the driveway.

The theater's auditorium has been demolished; in its place is a parking lot. Here is a shot of the back of the remaining structure. By all appearances, the brick building has been glommed on to the top of what was the original theater.


Some things that look like old theaters, aren't. Like this store, below, with its funky vertical sign.

And some things that don't look like theaters, kinda are. Below is the entrance to Foreign Cinema. I had a brief email exchange with the proprietor, who was kind enough to inform me that the business is more a restaurant than a theater; they project foreign films on the side of an outdoor wall to increase the ambience. As such, it's a bit outside the scope of my project, so I'm including it here instead.

The building below is home to The Dark Room, who host Bad Movie Night each Sunday Night. I don't know that I'll get a chance to attend, but it sounds fun.

This building below has nothing to do with theaters, but it looked neat, so I thought I'd include it. This is how I picture New Orleans.

And who can fault a giant mural depicting good vs. evil? These artists can graffiti my building any day.

Avatar (2nd Visit)

Grand Lake Theater

(Previously reviewed)

A while back my best friend Peter and I saw Avatar again, this time at the Grand Lake, as part of their 3-D film festival (celebrating the new 3-D projector in the main auditorium). Though you can recycle your 3-D glasses on the way out of the auditorium, if you hang on to them, you'll get at 50¢ discount on your next 3-D movie if you bring your glasses with you.

The Grand Lake's Egyptian-themed auditorium was the first to be equipped with a 3-D projector, though, so this gave me the chance to finally take some good pictures in there.

Some ceiling trim outside the auditorium.

Taken from the auditorium's screen, with Peter's image ghosted in the aisle.

The walls are stamped with these cool hieroglyphics.

Each wall has a beautiful mural stretched along its length, broken only by the faux-marble columns stretching to the ceiling.

A celestial lady stretches out beneath the balcony overhang.

These figures are actually embossed on the wall.

I start to feel like I'm in an ancient tomb decorated with gold. If you look too closely at any one design, imperfections in coloration or the shape of the mold start to reveal themselves; but at a distance, and taken in all at once, it is marvelous.

Looking forward from the back of the auditorium. The Egyptians, always afraid that their pyramids might burn down in the desert heat, were sure to keep fire extinguishers on hand.

Heading up toward the balcony (that's what my belly looks like these days).

A wider shot heading up to the balcony.

The auditorium isn't terribly long, so the balcony seats are pretty good. Still, I'd prefer to sit closer.

Looking from the balcony out toward the stage-right wall.

The roof sign lit up at night. Fireworks work their way up the sign and explode out the top.

The marquee lit up, advertising the 3-D film festival. Enough 3-D movies have been coming out that the theater has shown a 3-D movie continuously for about six months now.

This is really cool, advertising the organist.

I had posted earlier that the underside of the marquee had been repainted. Here it is all lit up.


Step Up 3-D

Wow. These people can dance. I haven't seen the earlier films in this series, but this trailer makes me want to watch them all. Who cares about the plot; the dance moves are absolutely amazing, making this trailer a thrill to watch. And in 3-D on the big screen, the trailer is extra cool. Those scenes of dancers lit up like Tron, or where the guy's shoulders are pivoting without his head moving, or when they sort of fall down on one leg but somehow magically levitate to an upright position again? I can't wait. 111 cuts.

Toy Story 3 (Trailer 2)

Surprisingly, not a very good trailer. We see the montage of Andy growing up, introducing the concept that the toys are afraid they are going to be discarded. Once we get to the daycare though it's just a jumble of silly scenes that do nothing to convey the good dialog or emotional moments. It looks good, but comes across as a movie more for kids than adults. We know better. 71 cuts.

Shrek Forever After (Trailer 2)

(Previously reviewed)


(Previously reviewed)
Just as good the second time. A visually stunning film. Sci-fi at its best, by allowing us to examine familiar issues, but under the guise of an alien world.