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

Sunday, August 1, 2010

55. Kick-Ass

Shattuck Cinemas

Landmark's Shattuck Cinemas was built in 1988 by Allen Michaud, who is also responsible for the preservation of the Grand Lake, and the themed auditoriums there and at the Orinda. The Shattuck is the only modern theater I know of where care was taken to use ornate, classical decoration to approximate the great theaters of the past. It looks more like an old theater that has been modernized than a new theater mimicking the past.

Just a block away from the California and UA Berkeley 7, the Shattuck is Berkeley's (and the East Bay's) primary venue for independent film. The Shattuck is often the only East Bay exhibitor of its films. One look at the marquee tells you that you're not in the mainstream anymore. Assuming you're interested in independent film, you could do nicely for yourself visiting no other theater than the Shattuck. I've visited the theater 17 times, and looking back through the titles, I have seen some really good stuff here: Let the Right One In (2008), Southland Tales (2007), Day Watch (2007), The Squid and the Whale (2005), and, best of all, The Anniversary Party (2001). (We won't fault them for falling prey to Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star, 2003).


Tickets are purchased at the back end of the large foyer, decorated with posters for upcoming films. The foyer is also accessible from a Starbucks on one side and a frozen yogurt shop on the other. It used to be the case that the Shattuck was cash-only, but they now accept debit and credit cards. Matinee prices apply to any show before 6:00 (contrasted to the first-showing rule at most multi-plexes). I saw reference to platinum and gold tickets, and discount cards, but I didn't ask further about those.


The concession area is preceded by a hardwood floor, and set off from the hallway by a small rise of steps. (Landmark Theaters recently began offering eco-friendly popcorn bags in most of its theaters.) To its side is the new Lot 68 Bar and Cafe, where patrons can buy alcohol and tasty food (including a hummus plate for $8 and vegetarian egg rolls for $6).


The ceiling is tiled with this gorgeous pattern. I can't tell you the name of the style, but it feels like something from a European palace during the Renaissance.


Many freebies are available in the back hallway, including postcards for upcoming films, and calendars for Landmark Theaters, the San Francisco International Film Festival, and the Pacific Film Archive. Here you'll also find benches with pillows, and framed photos of classic theaters in the Bay Area. I've visited a few theaters who pay tribute to classic movies, but this is the only theater I've seen that celebrates theaters themselves. Below you can see photos of the Alhambra and Grand Lake.


The theater has ten auditoriums (two recently added), ranging in size from tiny (40 seats) to small (145 seats), each with a distinctive feel, with a total theater capacity of 855. Most of the seats are wide, plush, have good recline, and built-in wooden and metal cup-holders. The only downside is that they are upholstered in leather (yuck).


The two largest auditoriums each have a balcony. Note, below, that the seats are staggered, so that everyone has a clear view of the screen; awesome.


Similar to the Egyptian room at the Grand Lake, the theme here is pervasive, with tremendous detail at every turn.


Below you can see that the ancient Egyptians accurately predicted the plot for G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra.


The Moorish auditorium is even more ornate than its Grand Lake counterpart, with rugs draped on the walls, colorful archways, false balconies, and patterned columns.


Following a recent remodel, the Shattuck added two more auditoriums, called screening rooms because of their small size. For evening shows these auditoriums are for adults only, and patrons can bring in their alcoholic beverages from Lot 68. The screening rooms offer two seating options. The first is the LoveSac, a giant, red bean-bag with a pillow. Very comfortable, but perhaps nap-inducing.


The second are these black, leather couches. Each seats two, but you could easily fit three people on them. And they are quite comfortable.


A very classy theater, top notch in all respects, and all the more impressive for being a recent build. Take note, Cinemark: this is how it's done.




Trailers

Paperman

Jeff Daniels is a dysfunctional writer with a Superman-esque imaginary friend (Ryan Reynolds). I can't tell if he's married to or divorced from or the sibling of Lisa Kudrow, which will govern how weird it is when he develops a bond with much younger Emma Stone. We have seen this plot many, many times before, with a socially inept male lead finally finding himself, thanks to the ministrations of a young, female muse (in fact, The Squid and the Whale has that plot, with Jeff Daniels in the lead). The plot is all the more cliche when the man is a washed-up writer, and the woman a fan of his work. Still, I'll see it (though mostly for Ryan Reynolds' character). Ryan Reynolds (Deadpool, Green Lantern), like Chris Evans (Human Torch, Captain America, a mover in Push) is beginning to specialize in superhero characters. I haven't liked Reynolds in anything but The Nines, but I'll take my superheroes where I can get them. 100 cuts.

Grown-Ups (Trailer 2)

(Previously reviewed)

Survival of the Dead

Do I like zombie movies? Will I watch zombie movies? Am I interested in zombie fan-fiction? Do I wish zombies didn't exist? The answer to three of those questions is an emphatic 'no'. This is the sixth installment of the Dead franchise, preceded by Night of the Living Dead (1968), Dawn of the Dead (1978), Day of the Dead (1985), Land of the Dead (2005), and Diary of the Dead (2008) (there was also a 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead). Though there's just no way I'll watch this movie, this trailer has some intriguing ideas. First, the plague of zombies has so overrun the earth that our characters are no longer scared of them; killing zombies is just a way of life. Second, most of the movie takes place on an island off Delaware where two surviving families compete for land, Hatfield & McCoy style (as if fighting zombies weren't enough to keep them busy). Third, and most intriguing, one of those families has an agenda to somehow domesticate the zombies, "to get these things to learn to eat something other than us." In the Buffy the Vampire Slayer universe, vampires are dead human bodies, inhabited by soulless demons. In the first episode, when Xander is apprehensive about taking down his now vampiric best friend, he is cautioned, "Remember, that's not your friend; that's the thing that killed him". But zombies don't seem to fall into this camp. If zombie-ism is actually a disease, then not only are zombies still human beings, but there might actually be a cure. The Dead series is disinterested in cures, but this latest film is probing the question of co-existing with zombies, with recognizing their former humanity, and perhaps even their right to live. Creepy and disgusting, but at least interesting. 95 cuts, 324 lacerations, and countless bites.

Prince of Persia (Trailer 2)

(Previously reviewed)


Kick-Ass

Everything you've heard about this movie being violent is true. Our hero, Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson), is beaten to a pulp one day and nearly fatally stabbed. When he regains consciousness, he learns that titanium plates have been grafted to his bones, to help them heal, and that he now suffers from polyneuropathy, preventing him from feeling physical pain. This isn't quite the suite of attributes that make Wolverine a killing-machine; nevertheless, Dave decides to put his 'powers' to good use, creating a crime-fighting alter-ego, Kick-Ass. We've already seen his debut fight in the trailer. It is memorable not just because he wins basically by attrition (he is able to take more hits than the other guys), but also because of the public response: "there's a dude dressed like a superhero out there fighting a bunch of guys!" The typical citizen doesn't read comic books, or fantasize about having superpowers, but when the real deal shows up, we go nuts.


Though Kick-Ass is the first publicly known super-hero, he soon finds himself skirting the edge of his city's underworld, where he meets two other costumed vigilantes who take their job a bit more seriously than he does. These are Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) and Hit-Girl (Chloe Moretz). How serious is this father/daughter team? When we first meet them, Big Daddy is facing down his daughter with a gun pointed at her. After a pep-talk about not flinching in the face of danger, he plugs her one in the chest. Ouch. She's wearing a bullet-proof vest, of course, but that doesn't mean it feels good to get shot. Demonstration over, she's ready to go play, but her father says they need to do it just one more time. That is sadistic dedication.


Though Big Daddy is costumed like Batman, his chief weaponry are firearms, and he is all too happy to use lethal force against his adversaries. Kick-Ass is on the side of "I don't kill", as all pure-hearted heroes are, yet he is the benefactor of the merciless precision meted out by his two colleagues. The local crimelord, Frank D'Amico (Mark Strong, in his fourth evil role in as many months), already annoyed by the mysterious interventions of Big Daddy and Hit-Girl, steps it up a notch when Kick-Ass arrives on the scene. An example must be set.


This film earns its publicity that deplores violence and crude language from an actor as young as Moretz (twelve at the time of filming). This movie is bloody, the body count is high, and Hit-Girl has a filthy mouth. Still, it's pretty awesome. Though I'm mostly inured to the f-bomb and it's like, I still get my ears ruffled from dialog in the movies of Guy Ritchie and Quentin Tarantino. But Kick-Ass, careful not to squander a moment for Hit-Girl to call a villain something really nasty, is surprisingly clever and fresh. For the violence, the movie doesn't cross the line into gore (my threshold), keeping it instead at the True Romance level of ├╝ber-realistic, every-punch-hurts, all-out beer-bottle brawls. Even the recent Christopher Nolan Batman movies are afraid to go there, to recognize that an out-and-out fight leaves all its participants permanently disfigured (I met someone recently whose neck and spine had been broken in a prison riot, and now he can barely bend over because of the metal rod in his back). In a nod to the violence prevalent in today's entertainment, at one point the film switches to first-person-shooter mode, to great effect.

Aside from Kick-Ass's unusual physical attributes, this is not a movie about super-powers. Still, the film does a great job of paying tribute to comic lore. Dave's house looks to be on the same block as Peter Parker's in the first Spider-Man movie, he and his friends hang out at a comic/soda shop, and each vigilante wears a costume that is aesthetically cool, even if not super-functional. (I don't care what lies a movie has to tell to justify its wardrobe; I want my heroes to wear capes!) A sequel is already in the works; sign me up.

4 comments:

  1. Quick correction: Dave creates the Kick-Ass alto ergo and tries to fight crime before he develops his “powers” . Its on his first attempt to confront some bullies in his costume that he is stabbed and then hit by a car, the latter which was corrected by doctors with the titanium plates and which resulted in his loss of feeling “some” pain (later in the movie while being severely beaten he mentions it still hurts a lot). It wasn't the presence of these mild powers that made him take up the cape but the idea that someone should try it.

    I thought this movie was great and am certainly glad I watched it but there are a couple of elements in it which leave me little desire to ever watch it again. First of all, I don't do torture, especially not with realistic screams of pain, but even more so, I don't do putting people in giant industrial microwaves! If you set up a focal group that followed me around for months to determine the very last thing I ever want to see, that would be right up near the top of the list. Actually, I didn't watch it, I closed my eyes and ears like a six year old girl. After it was over (which I had no problem determining since I couldn't squeeze hard enough to keep out the sound), my stronger stomached friend whispered “good choice”. Oh, and somewhere in there was a car compactor scene.

    Perhaps this is just a difference in terminology, but I do think the movie borderlined on gore in a few scenes, including the use of a sword to cut off someone's legs. But in general the violence was played for entertainment, both being slightly over the top coming from a 12 year old and also emphasizing the real violence really hurts (when directed towards are main hero).

    All in all the movie was highly entertaining and a fun mapping of the comic book genre onto the real world. (Other entertaining mapping with completely different tones and goals include The Specials and Unbreakable). If you enjoy comic books and can handle some shock value violence, you'll enjoy this movie.

    One minor quibble: it seems too coincidental that Kick-Ass and Big Daddy / Hit Girl enter the scene independently and roughly the same time. I originally thought it was all Kick-Ass's idea (who comments at one point that no one had ever tried it) and he influenced Big Daddy and Hit Girl to also done some suits, but I was forgetting the Big Daddy was referred to as appearing before Kick-Ass decides to put on a wet suit, but unknown to Kick-Ass or anybody else. So basically, they live in our world with all the same comic books and of which no one actually tries to be a spandex super-hero, and then two groups decide to do it independently just days or weeks apart.

    A sequel? This movie did not position itself for a sequel, so I'm interested in what sort of story would be spun. Sign me up (?) . . . eh, I think I'll send in Will as a sortie to check it out and report. This movie was partly popular for shock value violence and language, pushing the envelope a bit, and frankly I don't want to be pushed from industrial strength microwaves to something worse.

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  2. I had forgotten about the microwave and sword scenes. Yes, I could do without those.

    I had recalled that Dave was already in his Kick-Ass attire when he first fought the thugs, before sustaining his injuries; but in defense of my synopsis, it's possible he would not have continued as a crime-fighter had that accident not resulted in a change to his physiology. One beating might have been enough.

    The movie is pretty murky about how long Big Daddy and Hit-Girl have been in operation. I got the impression that they have been the thorn in D'Amico's side for quite a while when the movie starts, but that either a) he had no idea who was attacking him, and/or b) he didn't believe his henchmen when they said it was a guy in a bat suit. The trailer gave me the impression that Kick-Ass inspired the other two to become vigilantes, but the movie left me thinking that they definitely preceded him, and only outed themselves to him to save his life.

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  3. "I had forgotten about the microwave and sword scenes."

    Well how convenient for you.

    "The movie is pretty murky about how long Big Daddy and Hit-Girl have been in operation. I got the impression that they have been the thorn in D'Amico's side for quite a while when the movie starts, but that either a) he had no idea who was attacking him, and/or b) he didn't believe his henchmen when they said it was a guy in a bat suit. The trailer gave me the impression that Kick-Ass inspired the other two to become vigilantes, but the movie left me thinking that they definitely preceded him, and only outed themselves to him to save his life."

    Big Daddy definitely preceded Kick-Ass since the tortured thug is describing him at the beginning of the movie. How long did he proceed him? I suppose it is anyone guess, surely Big Daddy himself had been planning his revenge and training his daughter for some time. How much he actually disrupted D'Amico before the movie starts is unclear but I think it can be said with confidence this was the first time he had donned the bat suit since D'Amico and fellow bosses thought the thug was completely lying; surely if there had been other occurrences of “the batman” there would have been a lot more reports. D'Amico didn't even realize he was being disrupted by an outside influence at all, since he kept thinking it was his own people were stealing the drugs.

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  4. I can't comment on the comic lore, but this does look like a fun theater. I used to think McMenamin's pug theaters in Portland were cool, but this might give them a run for their money.

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