Century at Tanforan
Once the site of a racetrack (used as an internment camp during World War II for Japanese Americans), the Shops at Tanforan mall in San Bruno is conveniently located directly across a plaza from BART. Cinemark's 20-screen Century at Tanforan theater is adjacent to the mall, accessible from the mall's second story via a skyway.
The box office is located on the mall's eastern side, just above the food court, but there are also electronic ticketing kiosks in the theater's concession area, so you can head straight up to avoid box office lines. The first showing of the day grants an "Early Bird" rate of $6.00. I had pulled the showtimes late Thursday night, thinking they were accurate for the weekend, but the true showtimes were posted sometime on Friday. Thinking we were arriving twenty minutes early, my friend Susannah and I were fortunate to be just in time. This is Susannah's third movie with me so far this year (the other two being Red Cliff and Fantastic Mr. Fox); a strong ally for a daunting task.
The concession areas for Cinemark theaters have a similar, buffet-style layout, where you might get a disposable paper tray, load up on food, then beverages, pay at the cashier, and finally top it all off with condiments. Throughout my life I've enjoyed glorious, day-long movie binges with my dad, where "lunch" was whatever could be had without leaving the theater. So I appreciate that many theaters offer some heartier foods at concessions, that are more filling if not more nutritious than popcorn and Skittles. Unfortunately, these advanced food offerings mean that I must endure movies with the unpleasant smell of hotdog wafting across my nostrils.
Below I show a typical Cinemark hallway, with entrances to individual auditoriums identified by electronic marquees (which also display the specific showtime of the movie; very helpful when every marquee is otherwise equally inviting you to Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel). The halls have a subduing effect, which might help quiet patrons before they enter a theater, but are rather garish. According to Wikipedia, the Shops at Tanforan re-opened in 2005. Assuming the theater is as new as that, it's dispiriting that one can so clearly trace the theater's lineage of style to the 1970s.
Something I've only just noticed is that when Channing Tatum leans in to kiss Amanda Seyfried, he stops just short, only a few inches from her mouth, waiting for her. She leans in a bit, hesitates for a moment (as if savoring the expectation), then finally meets his lips. It's quite a kiss.
A documentary following the first year in the life of four different children, from the U.S. (San Francisco), Namibia, Mongolia, and Japan. Assuming the film is told in chronological order (rather than by country), we'll get to see many delightful differences and similarities as each of the children develop, in both rural and urban settings. 63 cuts, bookended by two long, humorous scenes. This trailer is worth seeing if you miss the movie.
Letters to Juliet
This next installment of the Twilight series picks up with the beginning of Bella Swan's (Kristen Stewart) senior year of high school. She and vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) have been dating since the events of the previous film, his family have accepted Bella, and all seems to be going well. But two things immediately happen that drive a wedge between our lovers. On Bella's 18th birthday she has a vision of herself as an old woman, with Edward still looking like a seventeen-year-old. Following this dream, Bella begins to obsess about her age, becoming convinced that Edward should turn her into a vampire so that they can be together fully and forever. At Bella's birthday party, a chance accident spills a drop of Bella's blood, causing a tense conflict as Edward's brother Jasper experiences an uncontrollable blood lust. Weighing this event with other problems already facing the group, Edward and his family decide to leave town.
This all happens in the first ten minutes. The rest of the movie follows the friendship that Bella, devastated by the loss of Edward, builds with Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner), whom you might recall from the first film as being a friend of the family. Jacob seems to know about and have no high regard for vampires. As time goes on, with no word from her former lover, Bella must decide if she will continue pining for Edward, or allow herself to love Jacob. Lautner (Sharkboy from The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl) has his work cut out for him to compete with Pattinson's moody, dreamy Edward. But Jacob succeeds in a big way; he spends half the movie with his shirt off, and neither Bella nor the audience can deny that he's become quite the hunk.
Emotionally riveting like the first film, this sequel has the drama cranked up to 11. The dialog is stilted, with characters opening their mouths but not finding the words; stuttering; halting, unsure of what they've said. Every verbal exchange has the potential for a mistake, or a kiss, or a violent outburst. The dialog is natural and therefore awkward, grounding us with real people so that we don't lose ourselves in the absurdity of the premise. The film successfully captures the level of emotional risk that Bella experiences as a teenager. As an adult, our deeper experience casts a diminutive shadow on the importance of day-to-day dramas in high school; what seemed life-or-death then is trivial now. But to Bella, this is her life, her everything. New Moon demonstrates Bella's genuine, heart-wrenching reaction to losing her first love, and a reluctance to repair herself; she'd rather wallow in her misery. And lest we begrudge her behavior as juvenile, bear in mind that, with a vampire for a boyfriend, she really is dealing with bigger issues than does the typical teen.
The relationship between Bella and Jacob takes a long time to solidify. Movies typically rush into romance, or imply its gradualness through montage, but New Moon presents many long, satisfying scenes between the two; we are allowed to revel in their attraction toward each other, rather than be told about it after the fact. There are also interesting age dynamics at work. Bella is older than Jacob, but they playfully argue about who is older in terms of experience and wisdom. Edward is more than a century old, but already Bella has physically aged beyond him. As Bella contemplates becoming a vampire and halting her own aging, Jacob is wrestling with increased expectations from his tribe; he is still young, but is being asked to assume the responsibilities of a man.
You'll be able to predict some of the surprises, especially if you've seen the trailer. There is a tired plot gimmick at the end lifted right from Romeo & Juliet (which the film directly references). You'll need to accept that this is a romance with some action; not an action movie with some romance. The Twilight saga is the antithesis of the Underworld series. The latter is all lore and gory plot; the former is raw emotion. (In an amusing parallel between the two, Michael Sheen here plays a role that is the opposite number to his role in Underworld.) But there are some great moments of action. I'm fascinated that many vampires possess a unique power (clairvoyance, telepathy, clairsentience, etc.). It makes for interesting power struggles when different clans meet, each with their own champions.
The third act gives Bella opportunities for heroism, so she's not just the waif caught between two warring men. She is strong and determined. It is through her actions that dangerous plots are averted, and her brave diplomacy that peace is maintained. There is a particular moment in the forest when Bella asks of someone to not force her choice; her words are honest and devastating. Very well done.