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

Monday, July 5, 2010

63. Jonah Hex

Contra Costa Stadium Cinemas

Martinez is the northern-most city of Contra Costa County's I-680 corridor, ending at the three bridges  (built in 1930, 1962, and 2007) crossing the Carquinez Strait. I've never traveled through Martinez's downtown, and typically think of it for the towering oil refineries just west of 680. In looking at the city's zoning map, I've now learned that Martinez's city limit is west of that industrial sector, leaving most of the towering, brightly-lit refineries in the unincorporated area of Vine Hill.

The city incorporated in 1876, quite early contrasted to other cities in the Bay Area. The city's history page claims that Martinez is the hometown for the Christian Brothers Winery, Joe DiMaggio, and the Martini. According to this source, Martinez has seen five theaters come and go, including the State Theater, built in 1926, in operation until 1961, and today used by the county as the office for the Public Defender.

Contra Costa Stadium Cinemas is operated by Cinema West, who also run the Tiburon Playhouse. Contrasted to the older theaters in Martinez's downtown, Contra Costa Cinema is three miles away at the city's southern border, just off Highway 4.

There appears to be ample parking in front and to the side of theater, but be careful. The lot immediately in front of the theater is safe; adjacent to that lot is another, for a different business, with a sign (posted at only one entrance to the lot) that the business will have theater patrons' cars towed during business hours.

The theater's lobby is very similar to that of the Regency 6 in Gallinas, with ticketing immediately inside the door, at the front of a large central concession stand (accessed from either the left or right side of the lobby), and an arcade off to the right. The buildings are so similar I suspect they share the same architect.

Like many other theaters this summer, Contra Costa Stadium Cinemas has a summer movie series showing 9 kids' movies (e.g. Cloudy with a Chance of Meat Balls, Kung Fu Panda, and Planet 51) on Tuesday mornings for $5.00 total. I'm not sure how the kids are expected to get to the theater on a Tuesday morning, but this program is very cool otherwise.

The theater has eight screens. I could only find seven of them, seating between 49 and 223 each, and totaling 964. The box office attendant says there are fewer than 1,000 seats, so the eighth auditorium, wherever it might be hiding, is probably small. The regular seats (see below for a non-regular seat) are tall, comfortable, and have excellent rocking. The auditoriums are plain, with red fabric covering the walls.


This theater is one of only three in the Bay Area (all owned by Cinema West) to feature the "D-Box Motional Experience". I took one for the team here and forked over an additional $8.00 for my reserved D-Box seat, so that your curiosity wouldn't lighten your wallet. What do you get for the extra briefcase full of cash?

First, you pick your seat. There are two rows of D-Box seats in the auditorium; the rest are regular seating. The seats themselves are different from, though not necessarily more comfortable than, the typical seating. If a non-D-Box patron sits in a D-Box seat, that's fine, but their seat will not be activated by the cashier, and thus they will not get the full experience (presumably a non-D-Box patron would be kind enough to move if they were sitting in your reserved seat). Your D-Box seat comes equipped with touch-sensitive plus and minus buttons, to increase or decrease the intensity of the experience (I cranked mine up to 11).

Once the show begins, your D-Box seat will express itself in two ways: vibrating, to enhance sound, and moving, to enhance action sequences. (You won't see many quiet romances on this list of D-Box titles.) The sound vibrations are more pronounced that what you've probably already felt from the deep bass of too-loud speakers in modern theaters. They add a little bit to the movie, but not much.

The chair movements are distracting (to me, the person sitting in them; I suspect they would also be distracting to the row of patrons seated immediately behind them, as they watch my head bobble back and forth throughout the movie). Perhaps this is due in part to the novelty of the technology, the way surround sound was initially disorienting because suddenly we were hearing sounds come from all around the auditorium. But tilting my seat to the left as our hero careens off a ledge, or moving it forward and backward in a slow gallop to mirror the hero's on-screen horse ride, is also a bit nauseating. As my seat pitches and rolls, I must also adjust my head, relative to my body, to keep my eyes on the same horizontal plane as the movie screen. The result? A slightly sore neck after an 81 minute film (and that's very short for a movie), and a mild queasiness.

From D-Box's frequently asked questions:

Q: Are motion effects distracting from the movie?
A: Not at all. D-BOX Motion designers make sure that the motion effect is well blended with the video and audio effects. 

I can attest to that; the chair effects, though frequent, were well timed and not too exaggerated.

Q: I am sensitive to motion sickness...: should I be worry?
A: No, you should not worry.  All the motions effects are carefully produced with the intention to well replicate the reality and not to create a theme park ride experience.

Yes, you should worry. I'd put myself middle-of-the-spectrum for susceptibility for motion sickness, so you can perhaps determine your own comfort level relative to that. I don't know that "to well replicate the reality" distinguishes itself from a "theme park ride experience" when the "reality" that is being replicated is a gunfight on a fast-moving train.

The D-Box chair is not reacting directly to the movie, but rather is following a pre-programmed sequence of movements, constructed by an engineer somewhere who carefully watched the movie and applied this new craft. As such, few movies are yet available in this format. The next upcoming D-Box film is Inception, opening next week. This could be the ultimate test of D-Box. The movie's effects look to produce a sense of vertigo as our heroes tumble about in a warping physical reality. D-Box could both perfectly simulate the experience of the characters, and make you vomit.


A digitally animated musical sequence called Resonant Chamber features a wonderful fictional string instrument playing itself with long spider-leg wooden fingers and lofty fingerboards evoking the masts of some alien pirate ship.


Resident Evil: Afterlife

"Five years ago a virus escaped and everybody died." So, not a kid's movie. In this fourth installment of the Resident Evil franchise (none of which I've seen, but they all sound terrible), the world is in ruins. Alice (Milla Jovovich) reunites with Claire (Ali Larter) to kick some ass and try to take down the Umbrella Corporation. More than any other plot device I detest zombies. And I use that word loosely, to apply to almost any plot where one person kills/bites/infects another, and the victim suddenly becomes one of the baddies. Typically I exempt vampires and werewolves from this classification, because in both cases the victim typically retains their human personality after the metamorphosis (though Blade II, in all of its glorious horribleness, was able to sway me against its vampire mutants). Resident Evil is a series about a virus infecting people, and turning them into people-killing monsters. By the end of each installment, basically, our hero loses. Whatever perimeter was being maintained to contain the spread of infection is breached; most of our characters die; the Umbrella Corporation (who created the virus) is shown to be more nefarious than we thought; and our hero's meager achievements are suggested to be part of the Umbrella Corporation's grand scheme anyway. There are scenes in this trailer, though, that suggest the franchise is coming to a definitive end, with Alice finally confronting the Umbrella Corporation directly, rather than fighting a losing battle against the zombies. A heavy metal score, slow-motion fighting, and a shot of Jovovich and Larter standing together in the rain help make this a highly entertaining trailer. We've got a red-eyed man in black with two black dogs sitting on a white throne in a white room. A giant with a hammer tries to clobber Claire but she uses the old Neo-running-up-a-wall trick to get the best of him. Alice fights with twin shotguns; Alice fights with twin samurai swords; Alice fights with parted red lips. And to top it off, the trailer mentions that the movie was filmed with the same 3-D technology used by James Cameron to film Avatar. 61 cuts.

Inception (Trailer 3)

This movie is going to be awesome. Such great visuals, of people suspended in mid air, as our characters float around them, like astronauts maneuvering in a weightless space shuttle. The cast is great, including several Chrisopher Nolan veterans. This trailer spoils a few more of the movie's visuals, and gives insight into DiCaprio's motivations, so I recommend you skip it, but then come back to it after you've watched the movie. 82 cuts.

The Expendables

To crib a joke from my best friend, it's like they followed my dad around with a clipboard, taking notes on what he would think was the perfect movie. The good guys are left-for-dead mercenaries, fighting for revenge, honor, and to help some innocent civilians? Check. The bad guys are a faceless foreign army just asking for it, headed by a slimy corrupt American intelligence operative and his ten-foot-tall dumb-as-dirt bodyguard, all worthy of righteously gruesome deaths? Check. Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Mickey Rourke? Check.  Dolph Lundgren, Steve Austin, Bruce Willis, and Arnold Schwarzenegger? Check. 181 cuts, 790 explosions, 3,000+ spent shell casings, and more tattoos than at a Hell's Angels convention? Quadruple check. Don't come to this movie unless you're wearing kevlar undergarments.

Tron (Trailer 2)

(Previously reviewed)
This is the one moment where D-Box really made a difference. This trailer, with D-Box shaking me in sync with the ominous, Terminator-esque bass, was awesome. Without D-Box, 4 stars; with D-Box, 5 stars.

Jonah Hex

I love revenge movies. In the opening scenes, our hero (a cuddly guy who could kill by blinking an eyelash but chooses not to because he doesn't want to get someone else's blood on the new teddy bear he just bought for his daughter) is betrayed or ambushed or somehow else unfairly overwhelmed, and everyone he loves is murdered, his house is burned down, his reputation soiled, and he is left for dead in the wreckage of his life. The last thing he sees before losing consciousness is the twisted, cackling face of his nemesis. Of course, it's no fun to watch the hero's family murdered. But it's smooth sailing from there on out. After all, things can't get any worse. The rest of the movie watches as with ruthless determination our hero cuts a swath of destruction through the baddies, driven to bring justice to the man who killed his family. 'Justice' usually takes one of the following three forms: 1) The hero says, "You're not worth it", and turns his back on the Big Bad, who foolishly grabs a nearby gun, giving our hero just cause to whip around and make the baddie one decisive bullet heavier. 2) The hero says, "You're not worth it", and turns his back on the Big Bad, who foolishly grabs a nearby gun, but is then accidentally run over by a massive piece of machinery, haphazardly piloted by the hero's plucky sidekick, who then turns to the hero and repeats the movie's catchphrase, "Sorry, were you gonna eat that?", or says something incredibly clever, like, "Oops." 3) The hero says, "You are so worth it", and guns down the baddie in cold blood. Booyah!

Jonah Hex follows the above formula quite faithfully. The titular character (Josh Brolin) is a soldier in the Confederate army who takes exception to the brutal methods of his commanding officer, Quentin Turnbull (John Malkovich). Hex turns on Turnbull, killing Turnbull's loyal son in the process; Turnbull retaliates by making Hex watch as Turnbull burns down Hex's house with Hex's family still in it. Turnbull then chars his "QT" brand into Hex's face and leaves him for dead. Enter some Native American mysticism, and Jonah Hex is reborn as a do-gooder mercenary who can commune with the dead. Hex's first act is to cut Turnbull's brand off his own face, further disfiguring him (and providing a canvas for some great make-up/CGI).

Does the rest matter? Turnbull is alive and, still fuming over the South's loss in the Civil War, plotting something nefarious against the United States. President Grant (Aidan Quinn) enlists Hex to stop Turnbull. You've never seen anything like it. See, initially, the hero is reluctant to get involved, but eventually his sense of duty and bloodlust win out and he finally agrees to help. Incredible, original drama. But don't take my word for it; here's an excerpt from the script:
Grant: We need your help.
Hex: No, that life is behind me.
Grant: The entire country is in peril!
Hex: Not my problem.
Grant: But you're part of the country, so, actually, you're sort of in peril too.
Hex: Don't use your loopy logic with me, college boy. I have a cabin and I eat dirt clods for breakfast and I'm damn happy.
Grant: Millions will die!
Hex: Leave me alone.
Grant: Oh, and you'll get your revenge against the man who killed your family. I don't know why I didn't just say that first.
Hex: Did you just say the 'R' word? I can't load my rifle fast enough. Sign me up!

Like Lara Croft and James Bond after him, and pushing the movie into the realm of steampunk, Hex employs a personal machinesmith to construct creatively destructive weapons, including miniature crossbow pistols and dual horse-mounted Gatling guns (the American Humane Society monitored the action sequences, confirming that the three stunt horses were all stone deaf and missing several ears after Hex let loose with this arsenal). Hex's horse is named Horse, his dog is named Dog, and his prostitute is named Fox (well, Lilah, played by Megan Fox). I don't mind Fox. Although it's a bit of a cheap shot after Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen to not have a gratuitous scene of Fox washing a motorcycle, or at least a stagecoach. And trust me, my D-Box seat had absolutely no idea that Fox was onscreen, or that I had been continuously pressing the 'plus' button for five minutes, trying to crank up the intensity. The biggest problem with Lilah (and this goes for half of all revenge movies) is that our hero is supposed to be grieving the loss of his family. Forever. He's supposed to be so pissed off that he chokes a man to death with his own earlobes at every opportunity, so how am I to believe that amidst all this despair and rage he has time to fall for another woman? How is that supposed to make Lilah feel? You're not exactly over your ex if you're still killing her murderers. (Fox's is also the film's only speaking part for a woman, surprise surprise.)

The character of Jonah Hex originates with a 1972 DC comic book. I'm not familiar with the comic, but the character does make a cameo appearance in an episode of Justice League. The film pays homage to the character's illustrated roots by using a comic-paneled format to rush us through Hex's origin, from Turnbull leaving him for dead, to his resurrection at the hands of the Crow, and finally to earning renown as a bounty hunter. Hex's semi-immortality comes in handy during a scrap; but his other power, though more suited to his sleuthing duties, is the crowd pleaser. When Hex touches a dead body, the deceased is momentarily revived ; the soul, having been wrenched from its purgatory, is typically disoriented, in pain (the unburied suffer until they are covered with earth), and fearful of returning to the realm of the dead. Hex uses this power to interrogate those who have kept their secrets even in death, but at one point he's so mad he brings someone back from the dead just so he can kill him again. That's dedication.

Why doesn't Hex use his power to speak with his deceased (and stunning) wife (Julia Jones)? Presumably, Hex has seen the opener for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 6, and knows it's best to leave the peaceful in peace. Instead, he tracks Turnbull across the country, killing bad guys at every opportunity, and never forgetting a rock-solid maxim of action movies: if your boat is about to explode, jump overboard, because burning shrapnel is afraid of water and sinking debris typically only drags down the bad guys.

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