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

Friday, December 9, 2011

71. Salt

AMC Eastridge 15

Opened in 2005 (source), this AMC theater anchors the Eastridge mall in southeastern San Jose. Though large malls like this, with an enormous footprint, seem to be out of favor these days, and this one in particular feels a bit remote, the inside is surprisingly nice. It's spacious, with a large, open food court.

I love these panels of movie stars from various decades, with Holly Golightly flanked by Morpheus. (They alternate male/female until a smoldering Antonio Banderas dares to transcend traditional gender roles.)

The theater is laid out a bit like an airport. A big foyer, ticketing, and snacks, followed by a long hallway leading to the concourse.

Here is one such hallway.

The carpet is punctuated with tiled flooring that features movie quotations. ("There's no crying in baseball.") I appreciate that the quotations aren't attributed, challenging us to recall the source.

AMC has done a nice job with its thematic collages, including posters for classics, comedies, romances, westerns, foreign, action, and sci-fi (below). Oh, wait, does that mean Apollo 11 is sci-fi?

Plush red seats. Grand auditoriums. Multi-colored lights on the wall. The theater seats a total of 2954 people, with its largest of fifteen auditoriums seating 279. The theater showed 154 different movies in 2010, ranking 19th among all the theaters I surveyed (its ranking is roughly proportional to its number of screens).


The Other Guys

Misfit, mismatched cops Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg try to graduate from desk work to crime fighting. Wahlberg is a big ball of anger, wanting to be released and fly "like a peacock". Ferrell is an awkward, straight-laced, affable paper-pusher who admires the precinct's two top cops (Dwayne Johnson and Samuel L. Jackson) even though they treat him like garbage. The movie doesn't look great, but the trailer has many amusing lines. 108 cuts.

The Green Hornet

(Previously reviewed)


Attributing the movie to M. Night Shyamalan does not inspire confidence. The man has been on a steady decline since, well, The Sixth Sense. The seams have been showing in all his movies, with the author/director's heavy hand weighing down more forcefully in each subsequent story. The Happening was the final slap in the face. (The Last Airbender made me slap myself in the face.) So do I really want to see his next movie? No thank you. The trailer is well crafted, with vertigo-inducing shots of upside-down waterfronts and skyscrapers, and menacing block-letter text stretching to fill the screen. A bunch of random people get trapped in an elevator, and are soon afflicted by attacks from who knows what. Each other? A ghost? The eponymous devil? Who cares. I think Devil is an allegory: each of the characters in the elevator represents a facet of Shyamalan's psyche that he wants to punish for interfering with his previous movies. The man in the suit represents all the times Shyamalan wishes he had listened to Corporate about letting someone at least read his script before the first day of principal photography. The security guard's bald head is a symbol for the untextured motivations he gives his characters ("Trees are making people kill themselves; you don't want to be made to want to kill yourself; run."). The red-headed woman, well, Shyamalan is obsessed with red, because it's "deep" and "it means stuff" and Hawthorne liked it. Etc. 80 cuts. More lacerations.

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

(Previously reviewed)

Paranormal Activity 2

(Previously reviewed)

The Last Exorcism

(Previously reviewed)


Dwayne Johnson is released from jail; he puts on a leather jacket (nothing says, "You could be next" better than wearing someone else's skin); he gets in a hot rod; and he goes out looking for revenge. His best friend or perhaps brother was killed. Maybe by a preacher? The script writes itself. The movie looks terrible, with Johnson steam-rolling through each scene looking for trouble, just as he has in movies past. Pectorals are farther than they appear. 65 cuts.


We've seen this plot play out innumerable times. Secret agent/cop/detective/wetworker/best-there-is-at-what-he-does gets too close to the truth. Some shadow organization frames him, pinning on him the very crimes he sought to uncover. Innocent people turn up dead; loyalties are tested; and the trail leads inevitably to the top. By the end, our hero has rooted out so much filth from the system, it's difficult to imagine how the society will survive all its gaping holes. I'm thinking of sci-fi movies like Minority Report and Logan's Run; secret agent movies like Mission: Impossible and Eraser; and cop movies like The Negotiator. In each case, the villains would have done well to heed Michael Clayton's disgust, "I'm not the guy you kill; I'm the guy you pay off." (Not that our heroes would take a bribe, but it could at least save the bad guy a bloody death.) When the machine turns against its own zealot, it creates an unimaginable adversary: one who is knowledgeable, highly skilled, difficult to locate, and very pissed off.

But there's something different about Salt. We know from the trailer that Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie) is an American spy who is accused of being a mole for the now-defunct KGB. That a walk-in so casually testifies to this fact during interrogation would seem to warrant immediate dismissal, and Salt's colleagues aren't at all convinced. But Salt is suspicious; it's almost like she can read the script, and she knows that she's about to be the target of a vast conspiracy. So she begins an investigation into the truth that, naturally, only serves to further implicate her. Her fellow agents, headed up by the wonderful Liev Schreiber, are forced to hunt her; Salt's family is put in danger; and Salt herself must become every bit the threat she was imagined to be, just to clear her name.

It's fantastic.

I've never been a fan of Angelina Jolie, but she was made for this role. She's kicked a lot of ass in her time, as Lara Croft, Mrs. Smith, Fox (Wanted), Franky (Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow), and Grendel's mother (Beowulf). But Evelyn Salt tops them all. She is on the run for the entire movie, evading her pursuers, sneaking into the most tightly secured environments, smashing through windows, busting heads. Boom! She has the talents and rage of Daniel Craig's 007, but exists in a more realistic world of consequences. We never leave her long enough for the script to magically teleport her to an exotic locale in a new outfit with a bankroll; she's got the clothes on her back, and no way out of the city; she must run, constantly; she must punch her way to the truth. When she's captured, she escapes by the most brutal means. At one point she uses some's body as a silencer.

The rest of the cast is fascinating. Chiwetel Ejiofor, an agent from a different division, is tasked with her apprehension, and bears down on her with all the competence we would hope our government to actually have in such a case. Daniel Olbrychski, Salt's accuser, is both mysterious and personable. What are his motivations, and why has he singled out Salt?

Writing this review a year late, I can see with clarity how Salt fared at the box office. According to The Numbers, it ranks 20th for ticket sales in 2010. I'm actually pleasantly surprised by this (I'd be happier if Salt weren't immediately preceded in the list by The Other Guys). But in terms of plot similarity, Salt stomped the comp: The A-Team (#41), Knight and Day (#42, sadness), and The Losers (#114, had to really scroll for that one). And Salt was only beaten out by two other movies with a female lead (Alice in Wonderland, #2; and Twilight: Eclipse, #5; I haven't seen Tangled, but I gathered from the trailer that it's told more from the rogue's perspective). What's refreshing about Salt, too, is that the role is pretty much gender-neutral; throw Tom Cruise into the same role, and the movie could carry on with few adjustments. It's not too often that a non-pregnant, non-wanting-to-be-pregnant leading role goes to a woman.

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