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

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

84. RED

Los Gatos Cinema

Opening as The Strand in 1916, and becoming the Premiere in 1929, the Los Gatos received its namesake and marquee in 1941 (source: Theatres of San Jose, Gary Lee Parks, 2009).

The town of Los Gatos, incorporated in 1887, is bordered by Saratoga and Monte Sereno on the west, Campbell on the north, San Jose on the north and east, and the Santa Cruz Mountains to the south. The city was home to several other theaters during the silent era, but only the Los Gatos survived, now the town's lone theater. Los Gatos is also home to Netflix headquarters; with the recent closure of Blockbuster, Netflix is the reigning king of home video, and perhaps the biggest challenger to local theaters.

The Los Gatos theater was twinned across its midsection after the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989, resulting in two stubby theaters. When I visited in 2010, the theater was operated by Camera Cinemas. Earlier this year, the theater closed and gutted; when it reopens (supposedly by end of 2013), its auditorium will have been restored to its single-screen greatness.

A well-lit, recessed entrance invites passersby to the magic within.

Ornamentation, not original to the theater, has been exposed and covered up at various points in the theater's nine decade history.

The front auditorium sat 328. Concrete floors and ugly, narrow seating too close to the screen made for an uncomfortable viewing experience.

The theater showed ~42 different titles in 2010, mostly wide releases, though with the odd limited engagement now and then.


Factoid: Walt Disney won 24 Oscars.

Arc Productions, responsible for 9 (good), Gnomeo & Juliet (bad), and Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil (terrible), bring us the animated short "Enter the Sandbox"about two toddlers in a park who transport themselves to a kung-fu sparring court to do battle over a plastic truck. Clever fun, and the rare pre-show entertainment that seems to be for the audience's enjoyment, instead of badgering us with advertising.


Burlesque (Trailer 1)

(Previously reviewed)

Due Date (Trailer 1)

(Previously reviewed)

Inside Job (Trailer 1)

From documentarian Charles Ferguson (No End in Sight) comes an unforgiving inspection of Wall Street following 2008’s financial collapse. Lots of 'for the people' interviewees accuse financial executives of not warning us, and even say they themselves had tried to warn us. Executives face tough comments from Ferguson ("You can’t be serious; if you would have looked, you would have found things") and legislators ("What do you think about selling securities that your own people think are crap?") Aerial shots of mansions drive home the thesis: corporate big wigs brought home astronomical paychecks while their customers lost their homes. Having seen roughly forty documentaries thus far, I'm tending to favor those with a less controversial subject, and whose editing is not so deliberately leading me toward a moral conclusion. 74 cuts.

Hereafter (Trailer 1)

(Previously reviewed)

Drive Angry (Trailer 1)

When Nicolas Cage’s daughter is killed by a cult, he breaks out of Hell (yes, The Hell) to rescue his baby granddaughter from their clutches. William Fichtner is Satan’s Lieutenant, out to return Cage to the land of never ending damnation (that’s like the President of the United States sending the Vice President to personally track down an inmate who hopped the fence somewhere in California). Amber Heard shows up two-thirds through the trailer to give Cage a lift when, apparently, he decides to Drive Less Lonely. This trailer is bad in so many ways. A beat-up thug says, “Hell’s gonna walk the Earth”, to which Cage replies, “Hell’s already walkin’ the Earth”, but not before the trailer editor splices in a scene of Cage killing that same thug in an explosion. (Snappy one-liners aren’t so snappy if the audience is already dead.) Rebuffing Fichtner's threat on behalf of Satan, Cage says, "What's he gonna do, not let me back in?" As if Hell had but one climate-controlled, one-size-fits-all punishment room. Cage drives and drives and shoots and shoots. Heard wears tight shorts. Fichtner, one of few actors who is great even when playing a slimeball, uses his supernatural powers to rival Cage’s body count. At any moment I expected Cage's head to burst into flame; I was so confused until I realized this wasn't a trailer for Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. Cage made some good movies as recently as 2010, but it’s been downhill since, and with his casting in The Expendables 3, he seems to have thrown in the towel. 118 cuts.


How to endure the idleness of retirement after a career of killing people? (If this is your most pressing concern, please don't be my neighbor.) Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) wakes up at six o'clock every morning (without an alarm), does some pushups, washes his dishes after breakfast, then sits in his immaculate house waiting for the day to end. The highlight of his month is when his pension check arrives: he rips it up, an excuse to call Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker) in HR to complain that it hasn't arrived yet. They speak at length, and if she mentions a romance novel she's reading, he reads it too.

Frank's boredom is interrupted when a government-sanctioned hit squad comes knocking, looking to tidy up. They didn't get the memo that Frank is a ninja in his own house. Looking for an ally, Frank tracks down his old colleague Joe (Morgan Freeman), who asks if Frank ID'ed any of the assassins. Frank holds up a bag of fingers. Joe, who has been equally bored in a retirement home, is soon also targeted. As a matter of survival, and to unravel the conspiracy against them, Frank, Joe, and a semi-kidnapped Sarah reunite with the rest of their team, conspiracist Marvin (John Malkovich) and MI-6 operative Victoria (Helen Mirren). Marvin is a tinfoil hat kind of guy who lives in an underground bunker next to a decoy house. Whereas Marvin's marbles are mostly gone, Victoria has stayed sharp by picking up an odd job here and there; when first we meet her she's using acid to dispose of a body in a bathtub.

RED (Retired Extremely Dangerous) is the perfect action comedy. The fight scenes are intense and brutal (Willis sparring with antagonist Karl Urban is one of the best fist fights I've seen), and the team dynamics are consistently funny. Rebecca Pidgeon, Richard Dreyfus, Julian McMahon, and a romantic ex-KGB Brian Cox are all excellent in supporting roles. The movie's more sedate moments are still filled with explosions, setting the tempo for a final sequence so packed with action, it's as if Danny Ocean said to his team, "Instead of being clever, let's just storm the Bellagio with bazookas!"

Monday, November 11, 2013

83. A Somewhat Gentle Man

CinéArts @ Sequoia

Nestled in Mill Valley's charming, redwood-dotted downtown, the CinéArts @ Sequioa and its towering façade were built in 1929 (designed by the Reid brothers, architects of the Grand Lake Theatre, among others) (source). The Sequoia is predated by Mill Valley's other surviving venue, 142 Throckmorton Theatre, built in 1915, and now host to live performances.

Along with 142 Throckmorton Theatre, Century Cinema in Corte Madera, and the Rafael Theatre in San Rafael, the Sequoia hosts the California Film Institute's Mill Valley Film Festival, one of the most prestigious festivals in the United States. Spanning a week and two weekends each October, the festival highlights more than a hundred shorts and feature-length films, some of them making their U.S. debuts. (My data indicate the Sequoia showed 46 different movies in 2010, however, the festival's daily showtimes were not consistently available on IMDB, and therefore my year-end counts are low for the above theaters.)

The lobby is cute, with an unusual snack bar featuring several unique items, including various cakes.

Twinned in 1975, the theater's two auditoriums seat 342 and 345, for a total of 687. The chairs are plush, with stadium seating in the rear and a healthy raked floor in the front. Golden fabric on the walls, classic patterns on the carpet, and lights on the steps help to make this the best CinéArts theater I've visited.


The familiar voice of Peter Coyote introduces a musician I'm supposed to be equally familiar with, but I'm clueless.



En ganske snill mann (A Somewhat Gentle Man)

At a remote prison in Sweden, the gates open to release Ulrik (Stellan Skarsgård) onto a snowy wasteland, without transportation or instruction. (Successfully reintroducing a felon into society is apparently not a priority for their penal system.) Ulrik doesn't complain; he makes his own way back to town, where he's admonished for trying to smoke in a diner (customs have changed), and people who recognize him are surprised that he's out already (how time flies when you're not incarcerated). His friends give him the Lando treatment, acting like they're mad at him, but then hugging him; for his part, Ulrik is so even tempered, he seems just as uncomfortable with the hug as with their feigned anger.

Something was mired in the translation of the film's title, as A Complacent Man would be more apt. (At one point, a dismissive "F*ck Otto!" was translated as "I'm screwing Otto!") When Ulrik's gangster friend, Rolf, arranges a job for him at an auto shop, Ulrik takes it. When his new boss says Ulrik can stay with his grumpy-looking sister, Ulrik accepts. When that sister makes an awkward sexual advance, Ulrik shrugs his lips then lies down on the bed. Being so easily nudged, it's no wonder he was pinched. Conditioned to follow orders, he must have adapted easily to the structure of prison life.

The boss is constantly giving speeches about second chances, and is genuinely decent to Ulrik, but that doesn't stop Ulrik from beginning an affair with the boss's wife, the auto shop's unhappy office manager. This new relationship makes Ulrik less interested in satisfying the urges of his landlady, whose foreplay is comically grotesque. Perhaps in that mechanical sexual exchange Ulrik first develops a backbone. Speaking nostalgically of when they used to steal cars together, Rolf attempts to draw Ulrik back into the criminal underworld, asking him to dispose of a pregnant woman who can finger them. Ulrik, in his own non-commital way, resists.

This film is enjoyable for its odd spectacle of characters and their stuttering interactions. Skarsgård keeps his emotions neutral, such that like Stephen Rhea's "I'm not good for much" in The Crying Game, it's unclear whether Ulrik even feels remorse, or if he just puppets his own body to match something he once saw on TV.

The Clock

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMoMA) opened in 1995, the same year I moved to San Francisco. Across the street from the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, the MoMA is also nearby to the AMC Loews Metreon 16 and the Century San Francisco Centre 9.

(For some reason I neglected to photograph the front of the building on my two visits. The below image is from online magazine A Weekly Dose of Architecture.)

Though not technically a movie theater, the museum does exhibit films now and then, including eleven different titles in 2010 when I was tracking Bay Area showtimes. As could be expected, the museum selects films that relate to art (Superstar: The Life and Times of Andy Warhol) or are concept pieces (the one-reel and incredibly boring Russian Ark).

The interior of the building is as striking as its exterior, filled with an extensive collection of artwork in various mediums. No other theater offers this much to look at before or after my movie.

I can't speak to which auditorium is typically used for film exhibition, but for The Clock, a line formed outside a u-shaped hallway (early in the morning, we entered the theater without waiting; by the time I gave up my seat, the line was quite long). Once I was admitted and rounded the bend in the hallway, an usher directed me to wait at the back of the theater where a few other patrons were queued up, able to watch the film from the rear of the auditorium while waiting for a seat. The room itself was a simple box shape, with three columns of couches stretching toward the screen (I estimate ten rows of couches, for a total seating capacity of 90). Several other ushers responded to people walking out by escorting the next person in line to take the vacated seat (I heard there was a bathroom policy, to gain re-admittance without waiting in line again, but I wasn't willing to risk it). In this manner, and unlike for any other movie I've seen, the audience was constantly rotating. Some people perhaps stayed only half an hour; others had been there all night. I stayed for two three-hour stretches, two weeks apart.

In June of this year the museum closed its doors for a three-year expansion project. When it reopens, MoMA will have added an adjacent building, more than doubling its gallery space. (See a time-lapse of the construction here.) In the meantime, the museum is sharing its collection with the entire city.

View from the MOMA, looking toward Yerba Buena Garden.





The Clock (2010)

Visual artist Christian Marclay and an impossibly dedicated team of data miners have gathered time-themed moments from thousands of films, stitching them together into a single, 24-hour time loop, where the time displayed in the film corresponds to the actual time of day the viewer is watching the film. The film is disjointed, mesmerizing, and fantastically indigestible. In advance of its three-year closure for renovation, SFMoMA began showing The Clock 24-hours per day, inviting museum patrons to participate in a form of endurance art: how much can you watch before your body gives out?

A man asks what time it is. A woman, from another movie, answers. Someone looks at their watch; when they look up, they are someone else, somewhere else, but at the same moment of the day. Scenes hop from black and white to color, from noisy city streets to curtain-drawn bedrooms. Famous actors go from young to old in a matter of hours. A door opening in one movie is a portal into the next. Chase scenes spill across decades as a cornucopia of film stars manically eye their watches, obsessed with the passage of time. Wrist watches, cuckoo clocks, digital alarms, sun dials, giant clock-faced monuments, tiny displays in cars; times printed in newspapers, mentioned in conversation, or merely implied. People waking up, dressing, eating, leaving, arriving, meeting, chasing, fleeing, waiting, all with elapsing seconds weighing upon them, stepping them through an unavoidable yet arbitrary chaos.

With such a rigid conceit and limitless source material, the film threatens to collapse in unwatchable nonsense. Yet patterns emerge. Time plays a more important role in thrillers than in comedies. Train stations are inherently agitating. Some movies are obvious (Nick of Time, High Noon), as are some themes, like people waking to alarms in the morning. Less obvious is how long it takes everyone to wake up, underscoring how habitually out of synch we are, despite the shared time reference. I watched the installation from 10:45 AM to 1:30 PM in one sitting, then 7:15 AM to 10:45 AM in another; characters were climbing out of bed that entire time. Tension mounts as the top of each hour approaches, dipping into calm by a quarter past. The audio track plays a crucial role in orienting the viewer, with voices or sounds from the next scene beginning just slightly before the cut to cue the transition.

Movies appear and disappear so quickly, I had trouble placing even the ones I had seen. Perhaps someday Marclay will release an index; until then we must rely on ineffectual attempts to catalog them ourselves. Having seen only a chunk of it, I'm fascinated to see more. It reaches beyond the exercise of showing clock after clock; it chronicles a century of cinema, and exposes ad nauseum our modern obsession with time.

For more information on the artist and film, read Daniel Zalewski's excellent 2012 article in The New Yorker.

(My girlfriend's mother commented that the film would make a nice wall clock hanging in a living room, a perpetual and cryptic time piece. I'm just hoping that someday it will be released to home video.)

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Home Video Roundup: April 2013

The Host (2013)

@ the Alameda Theatre and Cineplex.

Several friends have reported that Stephanie Meyer’s writing is not the highest of literature. Nonetheless, adaptations of her work are tons of heart-throbby fun. In the Twilight Saga, Belle’s central decision is to choose a boyfriend from among a vampire and a werewolf. The Host makes the selection more human, but the chooser less so.

Body snatcher aliens have successfully conquered Earth. From the perspective of the remaining humans, the blue-eyed hosts are monsters wearing the faces of their lost friends. Melanie (Saoirse Ronan), her brother Jamie, and her boyfriend Jared managed to evade the aliens during the initial takeover, but while on a foraging expedition, Melanie is captured. In a typical possession movie, our hero's allies are taken from her one by one, feeding the zombie-like army in her pursuit. In The Host, our hero is the one compromised, and we are permitted to see the invasion from the perspective of a single host/alien pairing. Melanie’s consciousness continues to exist, linked telepathically with her alien invader, whom they agree to call Wanda. Melanie is a spectator, experiencing what Wanda does with her body, but unable to control it. With Melanie's incessant probing, neither is Wanda able to settle comfortably into the body.

When Melanie is reunited with Jared, he treats her as the villain who killed his girlfriend. His friend Ian (Jake Abel), however, begins to fall for Wanda. Good angsty drama, good sci-fi.

G.I.Joe: Retaliation (2013)

The first G.I.Joe was great. Channing Tatum leading a team of high-tech soldiers against well financed global terrorists, themselves lead by a vengeful Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Bring. It. On. Good action. Fun character interactions. And for this nostalgic viewer, the perfect amount of tribute to what were my favorite childhood toys.

The sequel, whose tagline should be “If you loved the first movie, well, so what,” dumps most of the characters from the original (Duke, Scarlett, Ripcord, General Hawk, Destro, Baroness, Dr. Mindbender) and recasts others (Cobra Commander, and Zartan to a degree). In their place we get Dwayne Johnson as Roadblock, Bruce Willis as the original Joe (that's not even a toy!), Adrianne Palicki as Lady Jaye, Ray Stevenson as Firefly, and minor roles for Jinx, Flint, and a few other recognizable names.

Ray Park (pictured below), who can't seem to not have super powers, returns as Snake Eyes. Byung-hun Lee reprises his role as Storm Shadow, even though Storm Shadow died in the first movie (his arc borrows from the best stories of the G.I.Joe comic book).

Yes I like seeing more of my childhood toys come to life, but not at the expense of throwing out the others. Johnson and Willis have more range than what's allowed here; pairing them with this already cartoonish action plot just makes it all the more silly. Tatum and Gordon-Levitt anchored the first film in emotional reality. In contrast, the sequel is a ridiculously fluffy barrage of action sequences, with its heroes spraying bullets and launching rockets like the 80s B-Movie never died.

Now you know.

Inception (2010)

Previously reviewed.

Outstanding. (3rd viewing.)

Your Sister’s Sister (2011)

At a one-year memorial for his brother, Jack (Mark Duplass) bitterly disparages his brother's commiserating friends, announcing that they didn't really know him. The brother's girlfriend and also Jack's best friend, Iris (Emily Blunt), intervenes to segregate him from the gathering. Recognizing that Jack has let himself go since his brother died, she offers him a private retreat at her family's cabin on a New England island. Jack accepts, but when he arrives expecting solitude, instead he finds Iris's sister Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt), who has come to the cabin to heal from her recent breakup with her girlfriend. The two have a one-night stand, and have barely extracted themselves from bed the next morning before Iris shows up, planning to profess her love for Jack.

Although I haven't seen anything else from writer/director Lynn Shelton, I now plan to. This film's dialog is riveting and its relationships fascinating, with the three leads electrifying each scene. I enjoyed every minute.

Celeste & Jesse Forever (2012)

Wow, this is depressing. Celeste (Rashida Jones) and Jesse (Andy Samberg) are best friends who do everything together. They also happen to be divorcing each other. Their friends think their relationship is unhealthy, and Celeste agrees. The film paints itself into a dim corner, with Celeste and Jesse perfect for each other in some ways, but too dysfunctional to survive. What am I supposed to root for?

The Young Victoria (2009)

Previously reviewed.

Not quite as enjoyable on this second viewing, but still quite good. I love all the political maneuvering as Victoria gathers her allies against her enemies. Emily Blunt is emerging as one of the great actresses of recent years. (2nd viewing.)

10 Years (2011)

Reunion movies are great. There’s something satisfying in bringing together a group of people with a shared but stale history, and seeing what happens. Some still view high school as the best time of their life. Others, unpopular back then, hope to make a big impression now, to either prove themselves in some way, or score with the hottie they never had. Still others explore mutual unrequited love. A stellar cast makes every scene interesting: Lynn Collins, Rosario Dawson, Brian Geraghty, Ari Graynor, Oscar Isaac, Ron Livingston, Justin Long, Anthony Mackie, Kate Mara, Max Minghella, Aubrey Plaza, Chris Pratt, and Channing Tatum.

Bai she chuan shuo (The Sorcerer and the White Snake) (2011)

Bizarre yet entertaining. A snake demon falls in love with a mortal from afar, and so assumes a human form to woo him, much to the distress of her female consort (herself a snake demon). Jet Li is a demon hunter; he and his protege move from village to village, tracking, identifying, and then capturing demons. Li’s instruction is absolute: all demons must be banished, even if they intend no harm. His protege becomes interested in the snake demon's consort, clueless that her presence is what often sets off his various magical demon-tracking devices.

This movie is all kinds of weird. Li is our main character, but his Jedi-like rigidity is off-putting; why banish all demons when clearly the white snake has sincere affection for this man? The more Li hunts her, the more she is forced to become the violent force he warns against, yet the less sure his protege is of their mission. Definitely one to rewatch.

The Man with the Iron Fists (2012)

Awesome trailer? Check. Martial arts? Check. A diverse collection of warriors, each with their own power or signature weapon? Check. Endorsed by Quentin Tarantino? Wait, hold it right there. Despite having liked a few of Tarantino’s films, I’ve loved none of them but Reservoir Dogs, and they are all incredibly violent (even his cameo in Alias was in the series’ most gruesome episode). The Man with the Iron Fists, written and directed by RZA, has all the makings of an awesome throw-down, but it is just bad, bad, bloody bad. (To be fair, I was warned when, at the end of the trailer, the titular man actually punches out someone else's eyeball.)

My Favorite Wife (1940)

The first of what would be four Cary Grant movies I watched in short succession. Cary Grant’s wife, Irene Dunne, is lost at sea. After several years of mourning, and after fighting with a judge to declare him a widower, Grant re-marries to Gail Patrick (My Man Godfrey). While Honeymooning in Yosemite, Grant is astonished when his wife resurfaces, intent on reclaiming her husband. What ensues is a comedy of errors in which spineless Grant is reluctant to tell his new bride that his first wife is still alive, and so invents continual excuses why they can’t consummate their marriage.

The film makes the misstep of assuming that just because the hero is currently ill-matched, that his new bride is not worthy of our respect. Yes, she’s a bit prissy, but that doesn’t mean Grant (or the movie) are justified in humiliating her and running her out of the plot, just to make way for Dunne. Once Grant and Dunne are alone together, the third act focuses on his jealousy that she was alone on an island with Randolph Scott that whole time. Contrived, and duller by the minute.

Rebel Without a Cause (1955)

Trying to fit in at his new school, Jim (James Dean) nonetheless makes enemies when he sticks up for puppy-dog classmate Plato (Sal Mineo). Jim is reluctant to get drawn into a fight with the gang of bullies; he postures like he can take care of himself, but he's obviously trying to stay out of trouble this time round. His good sense doesn't extend to staying away from bad girl Judy (Natalie Wood).

This is my first and so far only James Dean movie. I see why he became such a sensation. He is suave and emotionally complex. The scenes with his parents, where his mother belittles him, and he lashes out at his father for not coming to his side, are transfixing.

People Will Talk (1951)

Here is a Cary Grant movie worth seeing. Grant plays an OB/GYN and university lecturer who takes an interest in a patient and student (Jeanne Crain) who is pregnant, but unmarried. (The film’s title refers to the woman’s predicament, rather than finding any fault with a professor dating his student, or a doctor his patient.) As their friendship and romance blossoms, one of Grant’s colleagues becomes increasingly jealous of Grant’s position in the faculty, and wary of Grant’s mysterious bodyguard. Grant and Crain have an odd attraction; he never quite proves that he loves her, rather than wants to marry her to protect her reputation. Still, the two are great together.

I Was a Male War Bride (1949)

Another Grant comedy with a one-joke conceit that outstays its welcome. Grant is a member of the British service and Ann Sheridan of the American service. They are partnered together, initially fight like Much Ado’s Benedict and Beatrice, but then profess their love and get married. With the war now over, the problem is an administrative one: there is no precedent for female soldiers marrying foreign men and bringing them back to the United States (other than the film being made for an American audience, it’s never made clear why the US is the only considered destination). The legal language and spouse accomodations all assume that male soldiers are bringing home their female brides. Enduring all manner of humiliation, Grant registers himself as a war bride, and attempts to emigrate with his wife. Hilarious? Not quite.