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

Friday, June 10, 2011

68. The Twilight Saga: Eclipse

Century 20 Downtown Redwood City

Anchoring a revitalized downtown Redwood City, the Century 20 occupies an entire city block, with the  shops and restaurants opening up onto the street from the ground level, and the theater's auditoriums filling the upper level.

(I wonder if there is a reason, beside brand familiarity and the cost of rebranding, for retaining the Century imprint, now that Cinemark controls most of these theaters.)

The box office is located on the ground floor, connected to the upper level by a long escalator.

The concession area and theater floorplan remind me of the Century 20 Oakridge, though this theater has more attractive lighting and trim on the walls.

Something I enjoy about theaters is that they are perpetually pushing new products. Except in the case of displaying classic movie posters as decoration, the hallways are typically lined with posters from upcoming movies. Between these posters and the trailers before the movie, the theater is working hard to paint a promising future. I like the optimism. Imagine going to the supermarket, and seeing a sign that read, "Last week to get Cheerios. Next week: Blammios!"

I also like the stonework in this theater. Whether real or faux, the tiles lining the hallway walls are a nice touch, as are the mosaics encircling the support pillars.

The seats (which look better in red than in blue) are plush and comfortable, with unusually good schproing. The auditoriums are lit by large, angular light fixtures.

I came to this theater unprepared: I had my notepad with me, but no pen. Luckily, my friend Mica was with me, and she recognized our ticket taker, Sam, as someone who worked at her summer camp, and Sam was kind enough to lend me a pen for the duration of my stay. Whew. Close call.

Diagonal from the theater is Courthouse Square, a large plaza beside the remodeled 1910 courthouse (now a museum), and, according to the Mercury News, a "hot spot for free entertainment all summer long". This particular evening was no exception; the plaza and streets were packed with people enjoying an outdoor concert. Good luck finding parking!

The nearby Fox Theatre, built in 1929, showed movies right until the end of 2009. They've now re-opened as a venue for live performances. According to a post on Cinema Treasures, the Fox will sometimes show movies, though I don't see evidence of this on their events schedule. This article regarding the Fox's closure in 2009 makes no mention of the adjacent 20-screen theater as a cause of the Fox's poor fortune. Perhaps they were poised to peacefully co-exist.

This visit marks the peak of my olfactory experience of my project. Whether everyone in the audience but me decided to buy hotdogs, or whether patrons smuggled in some various and interesting smelling snacks, my sense of smell was overwhelmed.


A documentary called My Generation follows nine high-school friends, re-uniting ten years after they graduated. Drama ensues. Looks really well done. But wait, is that Kelli Garner? Well, you know, she's not super famous, so maybe she just happens to be one of the people in the documentary? No dice. This is a fictional, scripted documentary. Could still be really good, but if drama this good also happened to be true? That would be outstanding.

A commercial for Dragon Quest IX endears itself to me when Seth Green talks a nervous teen into wearing a purple fur pancho over to the cute girl's house. And she likes the cape (Nerd gets girl: 2 points). And he corrects her, "It's a pancho" (Nerd stays true to nerd roots: 3 points).

Justin Timberlake is surprisingly fun to watch, but not fun enough to make me want to buy a 3-D television. In the arms race between theaters and the home market, can't the home market concede at least one (stupidly unnecessary) gimmick to the theaters?

Old Spice guy is back. Nothing can top, "I'm on a horse", but in typical sequel fashion, the special effects try to compensate for inferior scripting. But one really can't argue against "the dream kitchen he built with his own hands". Women ovulate from the smell of dream-kitchen-hands.

An incredibly clever clip for The Other Guys has Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell flying through the air, in slow motion, shooting their guns, framed as if in a movie poster (and indeed these look like the very shots on the movie posters). Sloooow motion, And then slooooowly colliding with each other, and getting entangled in the wires that are now so clearly holding them up. Trash talk ensues. Great work.

The volume was down low during the entire pre-show, and what a positive change that was. When something looked interesting, the volume was loud enough for my focused ears to hear it; otherwise, it was comfortably low enough to have a conversation (the crowd was noisily and happily chatting during the entire pre-show). Every pre-show should follow suit; don't compete with the audience. Of course, as it would turn out, this audience was going to talk whether the volume was down or not. The audience was quite loud during the movie, fidgeting about, and talking back to the screen.


Red (Trailer 2)

Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, and Helen Mirren as ex-CIA operatives, coming out of retirement to clear their name and show the younger, punker generation a thing or two. Sign me up! Explosions, car chases, bullets whizzing, rocket launchers, crotchety personalities. Oh, and Bruce Willis standing up (with gun firing) from a car as it spins away from him. A hero has never done anything so cool before. 129 cuts.

Eat Pray Love (Trailer 2)

I need to reach back all the way to Steel Magnolias (1989) to find a Julia Roberts movie that looks this boring. Roberts wants to "marvel" at something, she tells her friend, Viola Davis; but she says it with such gusto it's as if she's accusing Davis of stealing her mojo. Ever since Roberts's extreme performance in Erin Brockovich (which I enjoyed), I've been particularly sensitive to her out-of-character, confident, lay-it-on-the-line speeches. (America's Sweethearts delivered one, in which Kiki gets so mad at John Cusack, she forgets who she is for a moment, and suddenly delivers a speech as if she were world-renowned actress Julia Roberts. An incredibly spot-on performance from a character who is supposedly not an actor.) Roberts is fed up with her life, and wants to travel the world, see the sights, and eat well. All understandably fun objectives. Also a bit pretentious, to flit about enjoying the food and culture from less wealthy cultures, while still retaining one's right to return to a life in the U.S.; her character should marvel at even having that luxury. I'm becoming more of a foodie as I get older; I'd enjoy this movie more if it focused more on food. When Julia Roberts eats a pizza, it's difficult to see anything other than Julia Roberts eating a pizza; when the critic in Mystic Pizza eats the pizza, it's easy to see that someone is eating food. 124 cuts.

Charlie St. Cloud

(Previously reviewed)

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Parts 1 and 2

It's quite unusual to see a trailer that is simultaneously advertising two movies, and contains footage from both. As with the Twilight Saga, the final book is being broken out into two films (a decision that might have benefited the pacing of The Last Airbender). This trailer is full of Harry Potter goodness. The kids all grown up; an army of evil wizards; a dragon; a showdown between Harry and He Who Shall Not Be Named. Having now seen the first of the two parter, I can say that although this trailer favors the second part, those scenes from the first part reveal barely anything about its plot. 78 cuts.

The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader

(Previously reviewed)

Paranormal Activity 2

Ug. Not my kind of movie. I'd prefer to avoid trailers like this. As a trailer, it does a good job of being immediately spooky. (It's all about tone; this trailer makes it spooky to see a woman standing in a doorway, whereas the trailer for Harry Potter somehow doesn't make it spooky to see a pasty-skinned man with no nose.) But it also flings someone into our face and then jumps out at us, so it's a bit of a cheap shot. It's interesting how a movie like The Matrix can deliver a useful tool (bullet time) to the action medium, whereas a movie like The Blair Witch Project can popularize an annoying trope that I wish would go away (first person cameraman perspective). 25 cuts.

The Twilight Saga: Eclipse

Several of my friends have read the Twilight series, and related to me how off-the-hook the drama is, with Bella wallowing in a perpetual state of teary angst. Given these descriptions, I never would have imagined that the film adaptations could be so freakin' good. And consistently good (a feat all the more admirable because the director has changed for each release to date). The Twilight Saga is a compelling example of how riveting drama can be. What keeps it from sinking into melo-drama is that the characters are consistent with the pressures of their environment, taking themselves entirely seriously. Yes, Bella acts like her relationship with Edward is just the most important thing EVER; and she would just DIE without him; but hey, he's immortal, and people are constantly trying to kill both of them, so I'll give them some slack in the over-reacting category.

In the first film, Bella falls for Edward, who turns out to be a vegetarian vampire (i.e. he only kills non-humans). Swooning ensues. In the sequel, Edward dumps Bella, but only for her own protection; and she falls miserably into the arms of her friend Jacob, who turns out to be a werewolf. More swooning (mostly from the audience, when Jacob first takes off his shirt). Where will the story take us next?

In the opening scene of this third of five movies, a young man leaves a social hotspot during a downpour, but neglects to put on his hood (a sure sign of bad things to come; always put on your hood, kiddies). Something skitters in the shadows. "Who's there?" he calls. (Who actually says that? Who wants to strike up a conversation with things that go skittering about?) He begins to feel uneasy, then panicky, then chased, and sure enough, along comes a mean old nasty vampire to have a chomp. But wait, we recognize the mean old nasty vampire: it's Victoria, the bitter survivor of the first film's climax that saw her meaner, nastier boyfriend decapitated, dismembered, then burned to ash by Edward and his family. (Originally played by Rachelle Lefevre, she is now reprised by Bryce Dallas Howard; I dislike recasting; it disrupts the illusion.) Victoria hasn't quite gotten over it (noone in the Twilight universe ever does). What's the use of being immortal if it doesn't also entitle you to hold eternal grudges? So Victoria has a plan for revenge: recruit an army, kill the Cullen clan, spike the football, do a victory dance, and who knows, perhaps even have some fun along the way.

Victoria's plot is meant as mere reassurance, that by the movie's end we are promised a seriously super-powered throw down. With that enticement safely squirreled away, we are now free to just hang out with Bella & Co. True to the first two movies, the pacing is perfect. Long, slow scenes of people talking. As an audience we have the luxury of settling into a scene, getting comfortable with, and seeing it play out. I bet David Mamet would have a fit; the scene doesn't cut abruptly when someone loses their temper; instead we stay with the moment, watch the characters deal with the outburst, talking things through. A deeply satisfying process.

Each of the relationships is exquisite. Edward and Bella are the only mortally-mismatched couple I can think of where their temperaments are similar enough that it actually makes sense for them to be attracted to each other (excepting Aragorn and Arwen, because they grew up together; and Aang and Katara, because he hasn't aged emotionally). At one point, with danger looming, Edward says to Bella, "If I asked you to stay in the car, would you?" That's a refreshing change from the Hollywood standard of men commanding women, and forgetting that just mere scenes ago the women demonstrated that they refuse to be commanded. Edward wants to protect Bella, but he doesn't give her orders, nor is he ignorant of her personality, that she prefers to take an active part in her own story. When Edward warns that it's dangerous for him to be near her, Bella, recalling the previous movies, correctly replies that it's more dangerous for him to be away. She's right; and he listens.

Bella, silly voiceover aside, is captivating. Her performance is so close to the surface of her skin, she's seething emotion. At one point, stung by a remark, she says, "I can't believe you said that." In any other movie she would have gone home and stewed, but not our Bella. She's mature, and honest, and she confronts problems immediately.

I'm a sucker for teams, and Twilight knows it. I recall that during the first movie, I was concerned that the less important members of the Cullen clan would be killed off. That's how it goes, right? By making them weak, it would make Edward seem all the stronger when he prevails. Uh uh, cupcake. That's not how we roll in Twilight. Our team is Bad. Ass. We've already seen a few origin stories in the previous films, and now we're treated to some more. Just as in the first film's climax, when the gloves come off, each Cullen has the opportunity to demonstrate their violent prowess. They defer to each others' expertise and give each other props.

Then there's the entire Jacob arc. Whereas the first movie was Edward-heavy, and the sequel was Jacob-heavy, the two now must share the screen together, and things do not go smoothly. At one point, at Bella's house, the tension is so thick, you could, uh, stake a vampire on it? Bella's dad walks in, and whatever adult-informed sense he has about boys being boys, it's awesome how clueless he is about what's really going on. Like in some Shakespearian tragedy, Bella's warring men might actually kill each other. Yet when Edward needs help to protect Bella, whose loyalty does he absolutely not question? AT one point, there is a steamy scene in a tent that is so close to soft porn, someone must have slipped some fan fiction into the script when no-one was looking. Not safe for work.

All that, and yet the film is patient to let itself be just a build up to even larger things to come in the two-part conclusion (coming soon). I can't wait.


  1. No pen attached to your necklace? What, did you get mugged?

  2. I know! I barely even recognized myself.