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

Monday, September 2, 2013

76. The American

Century Blackhawk Plaza

The seven-screen Century Blackhawk Plaza theater was built sometime before 2006 (source). Located near the Blackhawk Plaza shopping center, and in the unincorporated area of Blackhawk east of Danville and San Ramon, the Blackhawk Plaza is one of 31 Cinemark theaters in the Bay Area.

Inside, the theater's layout is similar to that of the Cinemark Movies 10 Redding. The theater has leather or faux-leather seats, and showed ~135 different movies in 2010.


The Cinemark "First Look" claims to be "the only pre-show entertainment that takes you behind the scenes", even though its programming is identical to that of Regal and AMC.

The History Channel has an entire show about the world's deadliest roads. I was floored that a show about driving on icy roads could even exist, let alone last multiple seasons, so a show about deadliest roads shouldn't be a big surprise. I wonder if ideas for shows like this drive the demand for more television stations, or if the number of television stations exploded at some point and we've been scrambling ever since to fill the void.

Another claim that movies are attracting "record-breaking crowds" without specifying which records are being broken. Inflated dollars spent by an increasing population isn't much of a metric.

A "one night only" promo for singer T.I. reminds me of a day in 2008 when he somehow took the iTunes Music Store by storm.

Behind the scenes with Greg Berlanti, the director of Life as We Know It, he says there are "no movies anymore that aren't afraid to make us laugh and cry." Whether that's true in their result, I would disagree that movies are afraid to try. Seems like every sentimental comedy is trying to do just that: funny for two thirds of the movie, then a teary eyed pat on the back right at the end.


Let Me In

An American version of the excellent Swedish film, Låt den ratte komma in (Let the Right One In). A young boy, Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) befriends his reclusive neighbor Abby (Chloë Grace Moretz), only to discover that she is a vampire. A trail of recent deaths lead back to Abby and her caretaker (Richard Jenkins), and soon to Owen as well, as Abby takes it upon herself to defend him against bullies. Meanwhile, detective Elias Koteas is closing in. Had I never seen the original, this trailer would have intrigued me. But its scenes are so familiar to its Swedish counterpart, I don't see what this version has to offer other than lack of subtitles. (And now having seen this version, I still recommend the Swedish original.) 117 cuts.

It's Kind of a Funny Story

(Previously reviewed)


I wonder if the makers of The Blair Witch Project, with their first-person camera perspective, knew that they were establishing an enduring film conceit. I see this technique used most often with horror movies, perhaps because the camera itself (i.e., the audience) can be targeted, thus bringing us closer to the action. The obvious downside, other than nausea-inducing movement and often sub-par film quality, is that the movie must constantly struggle to explain why its characters, when faced with terror and imminent death, continue to film. This persistence makes more sense in the media-aware Vantage Point, in which Forest Whitaker chases after the action with his camera, to capture the event for the masses, and perhaps gain his moment of fame. The excellent Chronicle likewise gets away with it by focusing on a narcissistic teen, and by incorporating footage from other devices (e.g., nearby camera phones, surveillance cameras, etc.). What horror movies don't seem to realize is that the desire to throw a heavy camera at on oncoming monster could be a much more powerful impulse than to continue filming on the off chance that my film will survive (even if I'm simultaneously ensuring that I do not). Catfish looks to skirt the boundary between these two genres: that of media-saturated teens obsessed with documenting their own lives, and teens in peril who continue filming even when they shouldn't. A young man befriends a girl on Facebook. The two share various phone conversations. Eventually he decides to go visit her, unannounced, with his friends in tow (sure to make a great first impression). When they arrive at her house, though, what they find is a creepy barn with blacked-out windows. It's doubtful that the young men will find themselves pitted against a supernatural force; more than likely, the girl was an artifice, meant to lure them there; or is the victim of some twisted scheme and they will be her savior. My money is on the former. 76 cuts.

Fair Game

Based on true events, Naomi Watts plays a CIA operative whose cover is blown by the Bush administration, intentionally, as retribution for and to divert attention from her ambassador husband's report that casts doubt on Iraq's access to uranium. Though both Watts and Sean Penn (the husband) have solid dialogue, and are sure to shine in this movie, the trailer itself feels rushed and cobbled together, switching music and tempos abruptly, using slow motion at odd moments, and employing both text slides and a voiceover. Feels like a television spot. 104 cuts.

The Debt

Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson, and Ciarán Hinds play older versions of Jessica Chastain, Marton Csokas, and Sam Worthington thirty years after an attempt to capture a Nazi war criminal in East Berlin. Whatever occurred on the fateful night of the operation has left lingering responsibilities for our trio, who must attempt late in life to resolve what their younger selves did not. Mirren, with the help of an identifying scar, easily conveys an older Chastain. I can't say the same for Wilkinson and Hinds, though, who look nothing like Csokas and Worthington. I'm not a fan of flashback sequences, and it looks like this movie will divide its time equally between the past and the present. Nonetheless, it's a compelling cast with interesting interpersonal relationships. 116 cuts.

The Company Men

Contrasted to Margin Call's microscopic view of the events leading up to the recent recession, this film details three families who must cope with unemployment as a result of it. Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones, and Chris Cooper are laid off, the latter two after devoting their lives to their company. Affleck struggles to find work, finally swallowing his pride and apprenticing under his carpenter brother-in-law, Kevin Costner. Meanwhile Jones tries to build his own company, to help employ many whose jobs have been lost. In one scene, he explains to his wife (Rosemarie DeWitt) why he spent the day golfing instead of job hunting: "I need to look successful". Other than that priggish statement, his character seems somewhat likable and sympathetic. A speech by a motivational speaker sets the tone that this movie is about persevering through tough circumstances. I'll be interested to see how perseverant the three characters are, who seem to have had it better than most before losing their jobs, and most likely will find work sooner than did so many others in the actual recession. 97 cuts.

The American

George Clooney is one of the most watchable actors in Hollywood. His roles tend to fall into two categories: the charismatic charmer, demonstrated with his easy smile, and the wearied man, epitomized by the bags under his eyes. Danny Ocean, Jack Foley (Out of Sight), Everett McGill (O Brother, Where Art Thou?): smile. Michael Clayton, Ryan Bingham (Up in the Air), Bob Barnes (Syriana): bags. The American is all about bags.

Clooney plays an American assassin on the eve of the last job of his career. As part of his exit package, he's training up a replacement assassin. They set up shop in a mountainous Italian town, waiting for information on their target. The entire film is contained to this location, and the scope limited to the days leading up to the scheduled hit. This isn't a European caper movie where the assassin travels from city to city offing people, first on the run, and then with the upper hand against some shadow organization. This is a quiet, deliberative plot more about an assassin's idleness than his action.

Clooney is a craftsman, both of his own body (performing some impressive push-ups each morning), and of his weaponry. He rents a shed where he constructs a rifle and suppressor from scratch. He has as much desire for perfection as Eli Wallach's Tuco, but is more proactive. I'm not sure why an assassin would need to go to such lengths, even if border control were particularly tight, but customizing his weapon for each contract demonstrates an artisanal care for his work.

He takes trips to the forested river, both with his protege to test out the rifle, and with a local prostitute (though the town doesn't seem large enough to support a brothel), with whom he's taken up an earnest romance. Like all of these "last job" movies, doom suffocates each scene. Developing an attachment to someone makes Clooney vulnerable. The zealousness of his protege has, in Clooney, been worn down over the years into a dull apathy. And this being his last job, he is anxious for it to be over. The camera often follows the back of Clooney's head in tightly cropped shots, as if someone might put a gun to his head at any moment.

The film's generic title, contrasted to the European setting, explores a cultural disparity. As an American, Clooney is descended from a tradition of self-sufficient individualism, a belief that he can shape his own destiny, as he does his rifle, to his specifications; can earn his living on his own terms, and can make an exit at his discretion. Americans try to escape history, with each generation wiping clean the slate to make room for their own story. Europe, though, is steeped in history, stretching back thousands of years. With this sleepy Italian town as an example, people still live in the homes of their ancestors, still adhere to the old ways, and believe in both community and consequence. We cannot exist apart from each other; we cannot expect to kill people for a living, and then just walk away.

Clooney looks tired, and we are invited to wonder what his quality of life will be after retirement. His time in preparation for the job is idle and restless; will his retirement be any different? Though presumably Clooney has a cash reserve somewhere, everything he is shown to own fits tidily into a single bag that he keeps with him at all times, ever ready to make his exit. The film denies us intimate access to Clooney's thoughts. He is often shown to be weary, or suspicious, but otherwise his expressions tend to avoid anything specific, and his dialog is void of the personal.

I didn't dislike the film, but neither did I particularly enjoy it. I heard comments around me like, "Lame", and "It's like the stupidest movie ever". "Lame" might approximate the ending, which doesn't quite make sense in terms of choices he makes and how others react. Perhaps I need the movie to give me more personal insight into my character, and have more explicit a thesis so that I understand the import of each long, drawn-out scene. When Clooney lies beside the river with his lover, just before getting up, is that the center of his existence, a relaxed post-coital coma, free from worry? Or is he nevertheless distracted, waiting for the next contract?

1 comment:

  1. I don't remember any of the plot you just described, I wonder if I might have been distracted by . . . things.

    "I didn't dislike the film, but neither did I particularly enjoy it."

    I think that sums up my feelings almost perfectly.