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

Monday, September 2, 2013

78. The Expendables

Winchester 21

The Winchester 21 sits directly across from San Jose's Winchester Mystery House (its land was once part of that same estate). Built in 1963 by Syufy Enterprises, the theater is the first of Syufy's "Century" theaters, which would grow to become one of the largest theater circuits in the country (source). A few years later, Century expanded its footprint on the lot with two additional domed buildings: the Century 22 (expanded to three domes in the 1970s) and the Century 23 (now twinned).

Though Cinemark purchased Century in 2006, a restriction on the sale of the Winchester lot excluded the three theaters from the sale (though not that of the nearby Century 24). (The theaters were renamed from "Century" to "Winchester" in the fine print, but the original Century logo still decorates their awnings and marquee.) Syufy, seemingly out of the movie business, continues to run the three Winchester theaters to this day. There is speculation, however, that when the lot's lease is up in 2013, the theaters will be demolished.

Inside the Winchester 21, there is an arcade to one side, and long swooping ramps that lead to its single domed theater.

The theater seats a total of 953, making it the 5th largest auditorium in the Bay Area (of the 62 theaters for which I have single-screen data). The seats aren't particularly comfortable. Like the CinéArts @ Empire, a horizontal bar in the padding was digging into my back the entire time. Also, the armrests, respecting the curving auditorium, angle inward, and pinched my knees together.

The theater exhibited just 24 different movies in 2010, retaining some for but a single week, and others for up to four weeks, or in the case of Shutter Island, for five weeks. But when considering the entire Winchester complex, their six screens showed a combined 130 different films, more than did the 6-screen CinéArts at Santana Row, across the street.

(Below: the Winchester Mystery House.)


The Last Exorcism

(Previously reviewed)

Saw 3D: The Final Chapter

I cannot believe this franchise has endured to offer up this seventh installment. The premise is the same as with the others: people wake up in horrible situations, and must do horrible things (often to themselves or to other captives) to escape. The gimmick here is that it's in 3D, promising to make the traps come alive and possibly even kill the audience. No thank you. In addition to being a brutal trailer, with snippets of scenes from the previous installments, the trailer awkwardly tries to demonstrate its 3D technology by showing an audience watching the movie, then a trap approaching the screen, then a profile shot of the trap emerging from the screen toward the audience. In this recent push for 3D projection, most movies emphasize how they are enhanced by the process. This trailer, which tells us nothing about the plot, seems to be saying that the technology is the movie, and everything else is secondary. 84 cuts.


This looks to be some sort of serious spoof of every direct-to-video action movie released in the 1990s. Danny Trejo is a rogue FBI/CIA/DEA agent, whose family was murdered, who has nothing to lose, and who loves killing bad guys. He's up against a tycoon (Robert De Niro), a swordsman (Steven Seagal), someone in a luchador mask, Don Johnson, and lots and lots of guys just asking for it. Jessica Alba and Michelle Rodriguez are competing love interests. When Alba, ever youthful, kisses Trejo, 37 years her senior and with a face that says "I beat the devil at a staring contest", it's like she's just mocking all her fanboys who will never get a shot with her. Cheech Marin co-stars as a priest with two shotguns. This trailer is ridiculously over-edited, with slow-motion, stutter cuts, 70s-style silhouettes, swirly effects, and action, action, action. The movie looks terrible but the trailer is awesomely bizarre. 131 cuts.

The Green Hornet

(Previously reviewed)


Here is a gimmick movie that isn't afraid to let its entire trailer demonstrate the gimmick, without revealing anything else. In a single cut, with a black screen, we hear a desperate Ryan Reynolds placing a 911 call. He was hit over the head. He doesn't know where he is. The operator tries to determine his location, but then the call drops. He manages to find his lighter, and although I was expecting the screen to light up, instead just a tiny corner of it does, suggesting, per the title, that he's deep underground. Think Cast Away, but filmed inside a sleeping bag. 1 cut. 2 cuts if I count the Lionsgate intro.

The Expendables

A "Dad Movie", named after my father, is one in which there are good guys and bad guys, and, by the end, the bad guys are dead. The Expendables is a Dad Movie. It's as if someone did a Big Data analysis of all the movies my Dad has ever enjoyed, and distilled them down to one basic premise: good guys shooting bad guys. And then blowing them up.

Our team of good guys is comprised by an impressive cast of action stars, classic and recent, and with varying levels of athletic experience, both professional and fictional: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, and Terry Crews, with Mickey Rourke as their stay-at-home cheerleader. On the bad guy side, we have perpetual slime ball Eric Roberts, his mindless bodyguard Steve Austin, and an entire island full of mercenaries, who, like in a video game, are just standing around waiting to get shot. Team Stallone's motivation for taking on such odds? To rescue a deposed president's daughter, to get revenge, to prove their own relevance, to get out of the house, to have some bonding time, etc.

(The woman to be rescued is criticized for painting, which is "how it starts", i.e., feminism or independence or liberalism or some other trait undesirable in women. It's not clear if the audience is meant to be chuckling on the side of the criticism, but make no mistake, by the movie's end so many men will have died that the only decision makers left will be women.)

There's a 22 year difference between the team's oldest member (Stallone) and its youngest (Crews), but they all seem well past their prime. Even Statham, who has perhaps just peaked, looks older for being in this company and in such a genre-conscious movie, where the team distinguishes its members by doling out signature weapons. Statham is afforded the richest personal life, in that he has a romance with Charisma Carpenter (cut short when he demonstrates his violent prowess in her defense). Li is the butt of stereotypical Asian jokes (his nickname is Yin Yang) that have been out of favor in Hollywood for three decades. Lundgren, still smarting over his defeat at the hands of Rocky, is pretty much a jerk. Rourke, who looks just as beaten up as he did at the end of Get Carter, gives a speech about losing his soul that would have been more interesting to explore than watching his teammates shoot people.

In general, I enjoy Stallone's roles. As recently as Rambo and Rocky Balboa he has delivered believable, sympathetic, and interesting performances. His role in The Expendables is not such a performance. Perhaps the error is surrounding himself with so much testosterone that he doesn't look so tough any more, or with so little acting talent that he has no foil. But this is the worst Stallone movie I've seen since Rhinestone (and I'm guessing that if I went back and rewatched that Dolly Parton movie as an adult, I would enjoy it much more than I enjoyed The Expendables).

This is a movie that celebrates the fantasy of maiming other people. At one point our heroes shoot the bad guys, and then set them on fire. Enemy combatants are blown apart in disguising ways. A bit like trying to give play time to all the Pro Bowlers, the movie must constantly toggle which of its many beefy heroes gets to dispatch the next baddie. The only surprises come in the form of which good guy gets to kill which bad guy, as in these types of movies everyone is usually assigned a dance partner at the beginning. The camera jumps all over the place, with choppy and nauseating cuts and tight angles on bruised faces that break up the action and remind me I'm watching a movie.

And those cameos by Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger we saw advertised in the trailer? A bit like those sensationalist shark attack videos on the Discovery Channel, I'm not sure it counts as a cameo if the trailer shows the entire cameo.

The concept of piling together all these actions stars is a fantasy come true, but thirty years too late. I can't believe it's already seen a sequel, with one more in the works.

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