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

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

64. Killers

Brenden Concord 14

With 46 screens at three Bay Area locations, Brenden Theatres has the Bay Area's fifth largest movie screen footprint. The Brenden Concord 14 was built in 1997 just a block from Concord's town square (Todos Santos Plaza), and six blocks from the Concord BART station. A free parking garage sits just behind the theater.

Concord, the largest city in Contra Costa County, began as the small town of Todos Santos in 1869. The city incorporated in 1905. According to the city's history page, Concord had "two cinemas" by the beginning of World War II. One of those was the Enean Theater, built in 1938 (and still standing today, though used as a church). At least three other theaters and a drive-in came and went during the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. Beside the Brenden Concord 14, Concord's only remaining theater is the West Wind Solano 2 Drive-In.

To digress for a moment, this supervisor districting map shows the city limits of each city in Contra Costa County. I have been pulling my hair out this year trying to find good maps that show a bird's eye view of a region's city limits. In some cases, I've resorted to using my AAA maps, which tend to have a slight color coding to them. But the above linked map is beautiful. It shows not only the county's cities, but also the census-designated places (CDPs), e.g. Alamo, that turquoise area between Walnut Creek and Danville. I'm also amused by this map because although it shows that the county's urban areas are divided into three geographically separate regions (I-80 corridor, I-680 corridor, and the Highway 4 corridor from Bay Point to Discovery Bay), the five supervisor districts glom together disparate cities, presumably in an effort to make five districts of equal population. Whereas the people in districts 1, 4, and 5 share their district only with their immediate neighbors, those in districts 2 and 3 do not. Imagine being a Brentwood citizen, trying to get your regional voice heard, even though the inhabitants of the I-680 corridor outnumber you four to one (although this map shows that in the 2008 presidential election, the urban precincts, including Brentwood, went to Obama, whereas the rural precincts, including Alamo, went to McCain). And do the inhabitants of Hercules have anything in common with those of Martinez, just over the hill, where the average July high temperature is 17 degrees hotter? (Statistic courtesy of the Contra Costa County Watershed Atlas, the coolest report I've ever seen, which also shows that city limits often match watershed boundaries.)

Also from Concord's history page comes this description of the valley in its pristine, pre-European state: "Dominated by a great mountain to their south, the Chupcan lived along the valley's streams, which flowed north to the wide tule marshes on the edge of the Bay. They shared the valley and the oak-covered hills with tremendous herds of elk, deer and antelope. Salmon filled the streams; grizzly bears roamed foothills." Except for the roaming grizzly bears, sounds like a great place to live.

To the right of the vertical sign, below, the theater is advertising lowered prices (from what, I don't know).

What can a modern multi-plex do to distinguish itself from the crowd? Its movie selection is determined largely by whatever Hollywood decides to churn out, and competing theaters will carry the same titles anyway. There are only so many different sizes and combinations of popcorn and Coke that a concession stand can sell. And nearly every multi-plex is now 3-D enabled. What sets a theater apart? Theme, of course. The Brenden Concord 14 is outfitted with a sci-fi theme, as if the entire theater were a spaceship. Though the decor isn't quite as cool as what you'd find at Disneyland's Star Tours (now that's a D-Box experience), I appreciated the attempt nonetheless.

The theme is only slightly apparent in the main lobby, but the exposed girders with their trapezoidal lattice evoke a cargo bay. A decorative panel above the customer service desk gives it the appearance of some sort of control room.

Bathrooms are upstairs, on either side of a mezzanine that encircles the lobby, like a catwalk in the U.S.S. Voyager's engineering room. Several of the auditoriums have upstairs seating as well, and these individual balconies are accessed from the lobby's mezzanine.

Despicable Me, with its outstanding trailers, isn't afraid to put forward a nice standee either.

On the way up the stairs to the restrooms, you can look out a porthole to the cosmos beyond.

A long corridor leads from the main lobby down to a smaller lobby (with another concession stand). Space-themed murals decorate both walls.

A small control panel marks the entrance to each of the theater's 14 screens. According to the manager, the auditoriums average ~140/150 seats each, totaling 2,030. In a photo on the theater's website, one of the larger auditoriums is shown to be decorated with the same sort of celestial murals as we see in the corridor above. In my auditorium, silver plating divides the walls into trapezoids. The seats are purple, plush, and quite tall, and the auditorium's stadium seating has a steep rake.


Rave Motion Pictures has recently made a deal to begin using National CineMedia's First Look in its theaters beginning in June, 2011 (even though the profits will go to competing theater circuits). Brenden Theaters, bucking the trend, has partnered exclusively with Before the Movie, a competing company. Their site claims that theater patrons arrive, on average, 19 minutes before the film begins (I would guess that this statistic is compiled from finding the delta between a ticket's time of purchase, and the showtime for the corresponding movie, which means the patron isn't necessarily in their seat watching ads for all 19 of those minutes). The site also claims that "Moviegoers are 24 X more likely to purchase a product or service that is advertised at the cinema vs a TV Commerical (sic)." So remember, if you purchased one Sprite after watching the samurai/cheerleader/panda bear/pirate ship ad on TV, be sure to buy a 24-pack after seeing it in the theater.

A cool ad from Pepsi promotes their Refresh Project to solicit ideas for making the world a better place (uh, don't drink Pepsi?). The screen is divided into a fun mosaic of people around the globe, with people in each square handing plants, Pepsis, and high-fives to the people in neighboring squares. The Black Eyed Peas' "One Tribe" plays throughout. I especially like when the camera angles pan to form a collaged globe in the center.

William Katt from The Greatest American Hero promotes a motion comic application for the iPhone called Sparks. Being absolutely starved for anything comic-related (in movies and TV shows), I've made a few forays into this medium with The Astonishing X-Men, among others. Motion comics are bizarre. The written dialog is replaced by voice acting (good), but the motion is achieved by either decoupling individual elements on a panel and moving them statically across the background, or by applying a fish-eye lens to an element (e.g. to a face, to give the appearance of a character's head turning, even though we're really just seeing the same image distorted in different ways). Definitely not a substitute for seeing true animation, but it is certainly an interesting medium.

Jean-Claude Van Damme speaks five languages. (By the way, if you Google "Jean-Claude Van Damme speaks five languages", the first hit is the Wiki page for Dolph Lundgren.) Those languages are French, English, Glutes, Foot-in-your-face (native to Thailand and some neighborhoods of Tokyo), and an old Norse dialect called Yaarghgh!

A spot for THX called Amazing Life is very cool and worth a watch. I love when the mushrooms kick in with the bass.

Are you familiar with the term "policy trailer"? Apparently, this is the name for the spot right before the trailers begin that promotes the rules of the theater, and encourages you to turn off your cell phones and to stock up on snacks. I have bad memories of the following three trailers from Regal, United Artists (1997), and, worst of all, an updated version of that same trailer from United Artists (1999), because each depicts a cold, sterile, computer-animated city of the future. They remind me of that segment of the Martian Chronicles where a few humans are exploring a deserted Martian city; totally depressing. Well, Brenden Theatres has a very similar ad (though with more updated effects) that is much more akin to the hover car race in the beginning of Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones. There are hover cars flying around everywhere, and the windows in all the buildings are lit up. This city of the future is hopping, and I'm glad to be visiting it. It's a lot like this one from Act III. There's actually very little difference between the policy trailers that I like and the ones that I hate, but there is something disturbingly vacant about those first three. (Just as a shout out to my brother and parents, this policy trailer from Syufy Theaters ought to bring back some memories from our trips to Reno.)

Also an aside: the Glee and zombie Sprint ads, Happy the Hedgehog, that great Sydney Pollack spot, and Legends of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole can all trace their roots to these great AMC spots: Soar, Cheerleader, and that one with the buffalo hunt. So well done.


You Again

Kristen Bell's brother is getting married to none other than her old high school rival, Odette Yustman. Bell's mother, Jamie Lee Curtis, assures her it's not a big deal, until she learns that Yustman's aunt is Curtis's old rival, Sigourney Weaver. I'm not sure how that fact escaped Curtis's notice during the four years her daughter was being tormented, but it helps to immediately establish the battle lines of Us vs. Them. Is the idea in movies these days that because we were all insecure in high school, we will all side with the insecure character on screen? Even if we were the popular, good-looking, athletic bully? Not that I was, mind you, but neither do I think those individuals need Hollywood hounding them to the grave about the mistakes they made as a juvenile. Anyway, fresh off her SuperBowl Snickers Tour, Betty White co-stars as Bell's grandmother. 118 cuts.

The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (Trailer 2)

(Previously reviewed)

The A-Team (Trailer 2)

(Previously reviewed)

Going the Distance

(Previously reviewed)

The Expendables

(Previously reviewed)


Nothing puts a damper on my weekend like finding out my spouse used to be an assassin, and now everyone is trying to kill us. And here I was planning to sleep in. Jen (Katherine Heigl) is vacationing in Nice, France with her parents (Tom Selleck, Catherine O'Hara), when she meets too-good-to-be-true Spencer (Ashton Kutcher). We're privy to both sides of the relationship, so we know Spencer is visiting the sunny coast to blow up a helicopter full of bad guys. But he is smitten with Jen's awkwardness (like when she says in an electronic voice, "I am a dating robot, sent here to observe your ways"). These two have immediate chemistry. They both try to impress the other by pretending to be someone they're not (I'm always impressed when I think someone is not an assassin), but once the fa├žades fall down (Jen's, anyway), the two fall in love, and Spencer quits the business.

Skip ahead a few years. Jen and Spencer are married, and live a quiet suburban life. Though Jen thinks they might be in a rut, her friend assures her that if they are having sex "all the time", their marriage is just fine. Spencer's old spook boss (Martin Mull) resurfaces, trying to rope Spencer back into the business. When Spencer balks, a cadre of assassins are sent to persuade him to stop breathing. At this point, Jen is made aware of her husband's specific skill set, and is none too happy. Gunfights and marital disputes go together like water and ice-cubes; they're basically the same thing, but one is harder than the other.

Heigl and Kutcher are on screen together for most of the movie, and it creates magic. Their bickering is endearing, and their endearments are endearing (like when they bump gun muzzles instead of bumping fists). What I found most satisfying about the film is that Jen, though in shock and angry that her husband was once a paid killer, never doubts for a moment that he loves her. Any other movie would have given her the line, "Was our entire marriage a sham? I don't know what to believe anymore." But not this one. The film is generous enough to give fun dialog to Jen's and Spencer's friends, neighbors, and co-workers, too, like when an over-eager neighbor says, "That's got a bit of my spit on it; don't clone me."

The movie employs a ruthless economy of characters that gets more and more fun as it snowballs to its finale. When it finally paused long enough for me to catch my breath, the credits started rolling, too soon for my tastes.

I've added a new feature to my movie database where it averages for a movie the quality of the performances for each participating actor whom I track. So, for instance, I've seen 18 Catherine O'Hara movies, and I put Killers as her 11th best (better than 41% of her other performances). Average out her number with that of the other four actors named above, and Killers comes to a 63% performance quality, which is actually not too bad (especially contrasted to Kutcher's Valentine's Day, which weighs in at 33% performance quality).

1 comment:

  1. Yay, Reno policy trailer!

    (My favorite part is the admonishment to be polite and only smoke in the lobby.)

    I now feel oddly compelled to rewatch Rocky IV for the "I must break you!" dialog, just so I can exclaim, "Excellent oration, Drago! Spoken like a true Fulbright-winning chemical engineering polyglot."